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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
Barlow, Jr., R.B. 1990. What the brain tells the eye. Scientific
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
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
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. http://www.marinelab.sarasota.fl.us/WHORSESH.phtml
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
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 http://www.origins.org/MereCreation/
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! *
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.
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
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.
A publication of the Creation Research
Volume 2, Number 1
Copyright © 1997 Creation
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General Editor: Glen Wolfrom
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