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Volume 2, Number 1 January/February 1997
A bimonthly newsletter of the Creation Research Society

This Web version of Creation Matters lacks the "Creation Calendar" as well as photos and special graphics found only in the print version. The latter is automatically sent to members of the CRS along with the peer-reviewed CRS Quarterly.

The Extra Special Courtship of Horseshoe Crabs
More Facts about Crabs
Mere Creation: A Report on the Origins Conference held at Biola University, Nov. 14-17, 1996
On Carl Sagan
A Baboon's Bassoon
Come Ride the High Country with the CRS


The Extra Special Courtship of Horseshoe Crabs

by Margaret Helder, Ph.D.

Dr. Helder's doctorate degree is in Aquatic mycology / limnology. She is Vice President of the Creation Science Association of Alberta, Canada.

Horseshoe crabs don't look mysterious and enigmatic, but they are. Normally, one would not expect any very deep questions to be evoked concerning creatures which resemble miniature tanks, moving with ponderous dignity across the beach. But these marine creatures with shells, these "crabs," are not actually miniature when compared to other animals of the seashore. They weigh as much as 4.5 kg (10 lbs), and may grow to be 60 cm (2 ft) long. To find one such specimen would be memorable enough - but where there is one, there are generally thousands or hundreds of thousands. At the appropriate time in the spring, some beaches along the Atlantic seaboard, from Maine to the Yucatan Peninsula, are invaded by thousands or even millions of these apparitions.

Special eyes

They look sinister, these crabs with their lateral eyes projecting in a sort of perpetual frown from the smooth contours of the shell. They are not really threatening, however. These creatures have merely come to the beach to lay their eggs. But not all of them manage to retreat safely back into the sea. Through the years, many have been captured for physiological study. It was in 1926 that H. Keffer Hartline began to study electrical impulses from the optic nerve of horseshoe crab eyes. From these studies some important principles about the functioning of eyes were discovered. As a result, Drs. Ragnar Granit of Sweden, and Americans H. Keffer Hartline and George Wald were awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

During all those years of study, the lateral eyes had always been removed from the crab before the experiments were conducted on electrical impulses, either in the nerve leading away from the eye, or in the eye itself. Then in the 1970's a novel approach was tried. A team of scientists applied electrical probes to the eyes of intact animals. Imagine their surprise when they found that at night, the sensitivity of the crab's eye to light was increased by a factor of up to one million times that of the daytime response!! (Barlow, 1990) Subsequent research showed that an internal 24-hour clock (circadian rhythm) in each crab's brain controlled this amazing cycle. Even when crabs were kept in constant darkness for more than a year, their eyes still showed this circadian rhythm.

Not surprisingly, it has been discovered that this unique cycle of sensitivity to light has very complicated controls. For a start, the research team found that these changes involve a feature exactly opposite to other biological systems. Normally, as sensitivity to a stimulus increases, so does the background noise (signals generated at random rather than in response to a genuine stimulus). The normal situation is like what happens when you turn up the volume on your radio. The volume goes up, but so does the static (background noise). In the case of the crab's eye, however, the noise level goes down as the sensitivity increases (Barlow, 1990).

A number of special features in the nervous system of the crab and in its eye are needed to bring about this unique cycle. First of course, there must be a time-keeping center in the brain. Two neurotransmitters, special chemicals which enable nerve cells to communicate with each other, apparently control the cycle of changes in the eye. As dusk sets in, the aperture widens in each component of the compound eye. In addition, in photoreceptor cells in each component of the eye, rhodopsin molecules (which react to light) are shifted closer to the aperture. This enhances the chances that each photon of light will set off a "quantum bump" with the receptor molecule. In addition, the bumps that do occur at night actually last longer than those during the day. This longer duration at night increases the likelihood that enough quantum bumps will occur at the same time to generate an electrical impulse which can be transmitted to the nerve cell. Changes in the ion channels in the photoreceptor cell membrane also enhance the opportunity for generating an electrical impulse. In addition, it is absolutely essential that all these conditions are reversed during the day. Otherwise the animal would be permanently blinded at sunrise!

It is apparent that a very complex system is in place here. First, the time- keeping mechanism in the brain must exert control of the day or night phase in the eye by means of the special neurotransmitter compounds in the optic nerve. Then there are resultant changes in the eye itself, including: the opening or closing of ion channels in the photoreceptor cell membrane, the moving of banks of rhodopsin molecules, and changing the sensitivity of these molecules. The system needs all these components to function, especially to protect the crab from being blinded by too much light during the daytime.

Benefits of these amazing eyes

There seems little doubt that the horseshoe crab eye is unique in the animal kingdom. But what benefit does the horseshoe crab obtain from these amazing eyes? This animal finds its food by means of chemical stimuli (Fisher, 1984), and it has no predators (Barlow, 1990). The optical system of this animal, however, has been so intensively studied that equations are available to describe its response both to static and to moving images. Recently-generated computer models indicate that crab eyes are most sensitive to objects, the size of fellow horseshoe crabs, which move at speeds typical of these creatures. Tests with live animals in natural surroundings indeed confirm that these crabs see almost as well at night as during the day. Normally, horseshoe crabs are not that interested in other members of their own species. In the springtime, however, all this changes as males develop a fascination for members of the opposite sex. During an ever- so-brief interlude in the spring, males use their wonderful eyes to identify potential mates. In the dark, as females move up the beach with the highest tides, males scramble to attach themselves (literally) to suitable mates. Undignified free-for- all scrimmages develop as males jostle for position with the females. And thus, reproduction is accomplished for another year.

So the wonderfully specialized eyesight of the horseshoe crab is useful only during the mating season. Such a fancy system is far too sophisticated for their actual needs. A chemical method of locating females would work just as well. They already use such a method to locate and pursue their food. From the viewpoint of evolutionary theory, the horseshoe crab is a most unlikely candidate for the development of fancy eyesight. This capability is much too peripheral to its lifestyle to expect that natural selection for this feature could have a significant effect on the population. All the possessors of beneficial eye mutations might well die off long before better eyesight would do them any good. In addition, any favorable mutations in the female gender would be wasted, since only the males pursue a mate.

Varied ecology

Horseshoe crabs are astonishingly hardy. These animals can withstand days of drying, wildly fluctuating variations in salinity, and great swings in temperature (Ward, 1992). They are also extremely tolerant of industrial pollution, so that on many shores in the eastern United States, horseshoe crabs are among the last creatures remaining. During much of their lives, however, adult horseshoe crabs live offshore in water up to 50 m (150 ft) deep, far from most fluctuations in the environment. In May, mature crabs (ages 5-7 years for males, and 7-9 years for females) instinctively migrate inshore at night during the highest tides of the year. They proceed inland as far as the water is able to carry them, and then the female scoops out a nest. The male, having used his remarkable eyesight to locate and attach to a female, fertilizes the eggs and the nest is covered over. Then, while the eggs remain high and dry, development takes place. When the next really high tide comes several weeks later, the hatchlings move out of their nest with the tide waters. During their first year, the larvae grow slowly in the intertidal zone. Eventually, after many molts, they retreat as adults to the offshore regions - far from the effects of the tides they will later need to track in order to reproduce successfully.

Long history

Some individuals have questioned whether, in a distant evolutionary past, horseshoe crabs might have needed their eyesight to avoid predators. But this organism is the least likely candidate for a past which is different from the present. Experts differ on precisely how deep in the rocks fossils identifiable as horseshoe crabs are found. Most agree, however, that horseshoe crabs are very old, or are "some of the most long-lived survivors on this planet" (Ward, 1992). Daniel C. Fisher claims, alternatively, that "none of them are known as fossils" (1984). What Fisher, an authority on the horseshoe crab, is really saying is that the shape of the shell of living specimens is slightly different from those of fossil specimens. He places great emphasis on this and says, therefore, that there are no fossilized examples of the modern species. Ward (1992) comments in return: "To a less critical eye, the horseshoe crabs of that long-ago time look virtually identical to present day species. But Fisher found slight differences in the carapaces [shells] of the Jurassic and the modern species, and investigated how these differences would affect the animals' swimming." It seems, however, that Fisher is placing undue emphasis on slight differences in shell contours. He himself points out (Fisher, 1984) how difficult it is to ascertain the correct shape of the crab shell since compression by overlying sediments can modify this feature. What the fossil record tells us, then, is that horseshoe crabs of the past were like those that we see today. If the horseshoe crab, consisting largely of shell, is unattractive to predators today, then it was also unappealing in the past.

Isolated status

Not only are horseshoe crabs genuine "living fossils," but in taxonomic terms they are a very isolated group. Horseshoe crabs today are represented by a mere five species. Some authorities place these few representatives in their own class, the Merostomata. This group compares unfavorably with other classes in the phylum Arthropoda. The class Insecta, for example, contains about one million species; the Crustacea, about 26,000; and the Arachnida, some 70,000. The actual numbers of species vary with the authority quoted, but the ratios of species numbers among the classes remain about the same. In anybody's book, horseshoe crabs are isolated taxonomically from other organisms in the huge phylum Arthropoda. These crabs would obviously not be considered an evolutionarily active or successful group, particularly since little variation has been found in the fossil record.

Horseshoe crabs constitute a prime example of stasis (no evolutionary change). However, for evolutionists there is one major problem with this conclusion. The biology of horseshoe crabs is such that one would expect them to evolve rapidly, if evolution theory were correct. Populations which are generalists (i.e., able to tolerate a wide variety of conditions) are the ones expected to be able to adapt to changing conditions, and to show such changes over time. The opposite is expected for populations which survive only under a narrow set of conditions. These are the specialists. The latter are expected to be most prone to extinction and least likely to exhibit change. Some generalist populations might unexpectedly lack the genetic variety necessary to enable them to change rapidly. However, this is not the case with the horseshoe crab. Biochemical tests (electrophoresis) indicate that horseshoe crabs have very high levels of genetic variability, such as one would expect to find in organisms with rapid rates of evolution (Fisher, 1984). A study of the variation in appearance in various populations of these organisms (Riska, 1981) also reveals an unusually high proportion of variation between separated populations, rather than within any given local population. Again, this phenomenon would be expected in populations capable of rapid change (divergence) - not in populations which show no change worth mentioning.

All the details concerning the horseshoe crab are opposite to the expectations of evolution theory. This is a hardy, tolerant organism which suffers neither from predators nor climatic extremes. They eat almost anything, so they should not starve. Within their populations there is also much genetic variability. Such a generalist, genetically diverse taxon should be one of a rich profusion of similar species. Divergence should long have been the order of the day. But horseshoe crabs remain taxonomically isolated, although they are found deep in the fossil record. In that the fossil specimens are so similar to living species, it seems evident that their past ecology would be similar to today. Do they enjoy fancy eyesight today? Then they must have had the same capacity in the past. Evolution theory cannot account for the development of such a complex but peripherally useful system. An oscillating system, which varies in sensitivity over the course of a day by a factor of up to one million times, would require powerful selection. But this is an all-or- nothing system, so selection would be ineffective anyway. There is no special reason, other than intelligent planning, why this creature is so gifted. What an interesting example of richness and variety in the creation. What an original method the males employ to find a mate. There is no reason to believe they have ever conducted their courtships in any other way.


Barlow, Jr., R.B. 1990. What the brain tells the eye. Scientific American 262(4):90-95.

Fisher, D.C. 1984. The Xiphosurida: archtypes of dradytely? in Eldredge, N. and S.M. Stanley (eds). Living Fossils. Springer Verlag, New York, pp. 166-206.

Riska, B. 1981. Morphological variation in the horseshoe crab Limulus polyphemus. Evolution 35(4):647-658.

Rudloe, A. and J. Rudloe. 1981. The changeless horseshoe crab. National Geographic 159(4):562-572.

Ward, P.D. 1992. On Methuselah's Trail: Living Fossils and the Great Extinctions. W. H. Freeman and Company, New York, pp. 135-150.

More Facts about Crabs

When encountered at the beach, horseshoe crabs may look intimidating, but they are not dangerous. Actually, these animals are not classified with the other 4,500 species of "true" crabs (class Crustacea), but are rather one of only four or five species of the class Merostomata. They are said to be intermediate in structure between crustaceans and arachnids (spiders, mites, ticks, scorpions, etc.). Limulus polyphemus, the only North American species, is found along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to the Yucatan. The other species live along Asian coasts from Japan and the Philippines to India.

In addition to vision research, these interesting animals provide another tool for modern medicine.* Three decades ago it was discovered that their blood clots when exposed to bacterial poisons called endotoxins. The responsible chemical, called LAL (Limulus Amebocyte Lysate), is now used by pharmaceutical companies to test the sterility of fluids used in human patients (intravenous solutions, antibiotics, kidney dialyzers, etc.). More than 1000 crabs each week in the summer months are used to provide blood from which LAL is extracted. The animals are safely returned to the water after "donating" up to one-third of their blood. - Glen Wolfrom

* Sturtevant, P. 1995. The horseshoe crab.


Mere Creation: A Report on the Origins Conference Held at Biola University, Nov. 14-17, 1996

by Todd Wood

When Paul Nelson mentioned this origins conference to me, I admit that I was skeptical. I know full well just how volatile certain issues are among Christians in the sciences, and I felt my hesitance was justified. When I received my full packet of information, I was somewhat overwhelmed. The pamphlet listed the speakers, which included such diverse viewpoints as Hugh Ross' lecture "Fine Tuning and the Big Bang," and Siegfried Scherer's talk on "Basic Type Biology: An Alternative to Evolutionary Biology." The promotional material also encouraged us to put aside our differences and find a common creed that all creationists can hold to (thus the clever tip of the hat to C.S. Lewis in the title of the conference). I certainly find creationist unity an admirable goal, but I had serious doubts about whether it could be achieved in a single weekend. If nothing else, it would certainly be a very interesting conference.

Of course, my biggest concern was the issue of the age of the earth. I feel strongly that a clear reading of the Scriptures can lead to only one conclusion about this issue, but as we all know, others are not so willing to agree. This battle has become vicious at times, and I felt as though I were walking into the middle of the war. I was surprised to find that most participants simply ignored the problem. There were the occasional whispers of suspicion regarding this or that speaker's position on the matter, but overall, the young-earth creationist speakers were as well-received as the progressive creationists.

Did the conference accomplish its goals? That really remains to be seen, but the sheer act of gathering members of the ASA and CRS together in the same room is perhaps an accomplishment in itself. Certainly ignoring a problem is no way to solve it, but the injection of civility, respect, and true Christian love into the debate should be a welcome development to weary warriors on both sides.

The forthcoming book based on the talks given at the conference will be a valuable addition to every creationist's library. As mentioned, Siegfried Scherer has a chapter on Basic Type Biology, and his wife Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer applied these concepts to the hominid fossil record in a talk of her own. Of course, it would be wrong not to mention the talks by Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, and Paul Nelson. These three men truly set the tone for the conference with their introductions to Design Theory and its application.

The conference was sponsored by Christian Leadership Ministries and hosted by Biola University. Richard McGee was the conference director. Also, I want to thank my church, Wayne Hills Baptist Church, for their assistance with my travel expenses.

See also


On Carl Sagan

Carl E. Sagan, Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, died of pneumonia Dec. 20, 1996, after a two-year battle with a bone marrow disease. According to a press release, the chairman of Cornell's astronomy department said: "Carl was a candle in the dark. He was, quite simply, the best science educator in the world this century. He touched hundreds of millions of people and inspired young generations to pursue the sciences. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and friends at Cornell and around the world."

Lambert Dolphin shares this account of a meeting he had with Sagan many years ago:

In 1963 when I was a very new Christian living in Silicon Valley, a dear Jewish Christian sister, Paula Fern, was engaged in translating Russian articles and books for Carl Sagan. The three of us had dinner in San Francisco one evening to talk God, science and religion. Sagan was Jewish and Paula had been working on him diligently not only about the Lord but also about his Jewish heritage. I shall never forget our deep conversations that evening. I saw for myself how this man had been exposed to truth lovingly presented - and had rejected it. He was arrogant in his atheism then, and ever since as far as I know. As of Friday [the day of his death] the truth will be perfectly clear to him as He stands before his Creator. It is sad to see lost human potential like this man had. He was, after all, gifted, talented, and made in the image of God, though utterly lost. Even sadder to me is the damage his influence has been on an entire generation.



A Baboon's Bassoon

by Thane Hutcherson Ury ("Hutch")

There once was a Darwinian Baboon,
Supplied with a plain old bassoon.
For to scientists it appears,
That given millions of years,
It'll eventually strike up a toon.

Yet this primate still sits on the stage,
But to science it's still all the rage.
Despite the deafening silence,
They promote epistemological violence,
Showing 'tis THEY should be in the cage.

While Creationists are somewhat perplexed,
And respond as their conscience directs,
It's hard not to go, "Hee, Hee...."
Asking, "Hast thou not read Behe?"
Where bassoons're irreducibly complex! *

* Editor's note: The reference here is to the new book by Michael J. Behe entitled Darwin's Black Box. Behe effectively argues that many biological systems (e.g., cilia, vision, or blood clotting) are irreducibly complex. Like a mousetrap (or the bassoon), they are made up of a number of interacting parts where, if any one part is missing, the system ceases to function. Such systems cannot have evolved by Darwinian gradualism.



Come Ride the High Country with the CRS

The Creation Research Society is planning two horseback expeditions for 1997. The trips will provide opportunities to study natural history from a creationist perspective, for fellowship and mutual encouragement, and to explore opportunities for future creationist research efforts.

Both adventures will be led by Dr. John Meyer, Director of the Society's Van Andel Creation Research Center. As a biologist, he has led many teaching and research expeditions in Latin America and the U.S. The outfitters are experienced mountain guides who are committed to Biblical creation. Early registration is essential. For more information contact Dr. Meyer by mail at 6801 N. Highway 89, Chino Valley, AZ 86323, or by phone at 520-636-1153.

Superstition Wilderness

The Superstition Wilderness, located just 30 miles east of the Phoenix airport, is comprised of classic desert mountains populated by plants and animals of the Sonoran Zone. Located on the edge of the Basin and Range Province, it is composed primarily of a complex of at least three calderas. The most prominent of these is the Superstition Caldera, which is of the typical resurgent type that has been heavily eroded, faulted, and tilted.

The Wilderness area is the home of the legendary Lost Dutchman Goldmine and, as such, has been the scene of many real gunfights and early military engagements. As recently as twenty years ago there were deadly confrontations among prospectors in these mountains.

The Donnelly Stables, which will be hosting the trail ride, are located in Gold Canyon, a few miles south and east of Apache Junction. The trail ride will start at the Donnelly Stables Friday morning, March 14, 1997, and will finish at the Stables on Sunday afternoon, March 16.

A shuttle bus can take you directly to the Donnelly Stables from the Phoenix Airport. However, unless you can catch a very early flight into Phoenix we strongly suggest you come in the night before and take the shuttle to the Grand Hotel in Apache Junction. We can pick you up there the next morning. Local participants will want to drive directly to the Donnelly Stables.

Cost of the trip is $450, plus 6% tax and gratuity. This includes everything from trailhead to trailhead, except your personal gear.

You do not need to be an experienced rider to enjoy this trip. However, some serious physical conditioning ahead of time will greatly improve your enjoyment of the trailride! The trip would not be appropriate for young children, the elderly, or folks with medical problems or significant physical handicaps.

Bob Marshall Wilderness

Last year our trailride in the Bob Marshall Wilderness drew folks from all over the U.S. That ride, covering up to 100 miles in seven days will be offered again. The dates are August 1-7, 1997.

Located just south of Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness is one of the largest natural areas in the lower 48 states. It abounds with lofty mountain peaks, awesome scenery, native wildlife, and important geological features. You will visit high alpine lakes, breathe crisp mountain air, and roam through a million acres of untouched mountain wilderness. The "China Wall," a part of the Lewis Overthrust, will be a major destination on our trip. The ride will provide plenty of opportunity to study many outstanding geological features and to learn much about high altitude alpine ecology.

The cost is $1,200 from trailhead to trailhead. Airport pickup can be arranged from Missoula, Montana. Overnight accomodations at the Cheff Ranch before and after the trip are also suggested. The Cheffs are Christians and creationists, and the family has been doing pack trips into the Bob Marshalls for over 50 years. They know the country. There will be a maximum of 10 participants. We need to have at least 6 confirmed (i.e. $400 downpayment in hand) by the end of January.

Physical conditioning in preparation for this trip is really important. It is 100 miles of often very rugged trail, plus some hiking at high altitude. If you have not spent time on a horse before, it will be very important to work out a schedule with your local stable for a few hours on several days just before the ride to help get in shape.

Last year we had a "full house" with a total of 15 riders (including participants and guides), 15 horses and 12 pack mules. Rarely is there a more magnificent sight than a string of 27 horses and mules winding its way up a wild and desolate mountain pass with snowcapped peaks visible in every direction.


ISSN 1094-6632
A publication of the Creation Research Society
Volume 2, Number 1
January/February 1997

Copyright 1997 Creation Research Society
All rights reserved.

General Editor: Glen Wolfrom

For membership / subscription information, advertising rates and information for authors:
Glen Wolfrom
P.O. Box 8263
St. Joseph, MO 64508-8263

Articles published in Creation Matters represent the opinions and beliefs of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Creation Research Society.


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