Snake Carnivory Origin

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Creation Ministries International, in the September 2009 issue of their prolefeed magazine, Creation, published an article about snakes, entitled Snake Carnivory [sic] Origin.

While in most of their articles they attempt to pretend that they are writing on scientific subjects, this one quite openly deals with a theological conundrum; viz., that since snakes were known to exist in the prelapsarian[1] world, but (as everyone knows) death did not exist at that time, how could snakes possibly be carnivorous?

CMI's attempts to explain why are somewhat more amusing than most of their drivel, so we are offering this point-by-point giggle fest for the reader's edification.

Snakes today not only move about in various ways, but they have diversified into numerous species over the several thousand years since the Great Flood.It is impossible for millions of years of evolution even to produce speciation, but now thousands of years is sufficient to spawn all the species in the entire suborder of snakes. To this we can only reply: Coffee spray.gif

All are complex creatures with specialized bodies and mouths well-suited to their particular niches and diets—all are carnivores. Some of the different ways in which snakes catch and dispatch their prey include:
  • The sophisticated infra-red heat sense of the pit viper, for detecting prey’s body heat—it can pick temperature differences of only 0.003°C!
  • A highly flexible skull in many snakes—adjacent skull bones can move in relation to one another—and jaw bones that come apart (held together by an elastic ligament), to swallow large prey, sometimes bigger than the snake itself!
  • The complex venom of poisonous snakes—a nasty cocktail of up to dozens of different toxins (e.g. enzymes) that break down body tissues (proteins and cell membranes) and/or block nerve action. Interestingly, biologists found recently that different families of snakes have more toxin genes in common than was previously thought, some used in prey capture and some in defense.
  • The venom-injection system of vipers—an irreducibly complex system of long, hollow fangs, fed by large ducts from paired venom glands, that fold back along the upper jaw when the mouth is closed, but swing forward into striking position when the snake bites.
According to the references section, the writer of this article lifted this information out of an encyclopedia of reptiles, except probably for the bit about irreducible complexity. Such scientific rigor!

A pre-Fall purpose?[edit]

What purpose did these structures have in the originally perfect creation? Even snakes’ behaviours changed at the Fall—since that time, it seems that snakes have been ‘programmed’ (by their genetic makeup) to kill to eat. Several possibilities exist. Either these attack structures are Creation-week designs (but served a different function before the Fall), or they appeared as a consequence of the Curse.Let us humor the creationists here and assume that the world is only 6,000 years old and that a literal interpretation of Genesis is true. There are theological reasons for supposing that the physical death of animals did exist in the prelapsarian world. Firstly, in the strictest theological sense, "death" is defined as the separation of the soul from the body; this cannot happen to a soulless snake. Also, as pointed out by old-earth creationist Glenn Morton, the verses cited by creationists to support a "deathless" prelapsarian world apply only to people, and not to animals.[2]

The sophisticated hollow fangs and venom of certain snakes make it unlikely that they are Creation-week designs that have simply degenerated since the Fall—they seem well designed to do what they do, and they do it very efficiently!As CMI has had to accept a wide variety of mutations as "degenerative" in order not to falsify their claims that all mutations are thus, this is not very unlikely at all. For example, CMI, upon a view of the Lenski evolution experiments, stated that the mutation observed there is a degenerative one; yet Lenski's mutated bacteria munch citrate with great efficiency.

In fact, the discovery that non-venomous snakes also have active venom glands is fascinating from a creationist point of view. This research points to a sort of predator/prey arms race with toxins ending up as part of the venom which previously had other uses; e.g. a gene involved in digestion might, through a mutation (a degenerative, downhill change) have become expressed in the venom gland.This paragraph appears to be a near copy-paste from the source, an article in Nature magazine about the evolution, with the parenthetical note added.[3] To be very kind to the creationists, one could posit that they paraphrased the paper without knowing what it said; otherwise one would have to conclude that they were so thick as not to perceive that this paragraph says the exact opposite of what its preceding paragraph says.

Alternatively, since God foreknew the Fall of humankind (Genesis 3), perhaps the genetic information for these rather macabre features (including toxic venom) was created originally, but only switched on as part of the Curse—this idea fits well with the modern understanding of gene regulation.One could also suggest that God created the snakes with fully functioning venom glands and arranged for them not to eat until he said grace Adam fell; but such a scheme is obviously too complicated for the omnipotent creator of the universe.

Another possibility is that God fundamentally redesigned creatures like snakes (at the genetic level) after the Fall. At the very least, God apparently ‘redesigned’ the serpent, through which Satan spoke to Eve, so that it had to crawl on its belly.The old Goddidit defense; God mucked about with the genes in a supernatural fashion to iron out those inconvenient inconsistencies between reality and CMI's interpretation of Genesis. The use of this defense is particularly amusing in that many creationists get very offended at the suggestion that God mucked about with human genes in the same way at the Tower of Babel, or that he mucked about with the laws of physics during the Deluge to smooth over that little wrinkle with radiometric dating.

This does have God designing ‘bad things’ but, as with all things in a Fallen world, it is His sovereign right to judge sin—and we don’t read that God pronounced things “very good” (unlike in Genesis 1:31) after the Fall!On the other hand, St. Thomas Aquinas said, "This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good."[4]

Of course, one or more explanations might apply to the various different snake attack structures that we see today. This is informed speculation though, because the scriptural record is silent on these matters.Translation: "The Bible is the only source of truth; empirical observation is worthless." One would think CMI would work a little more carefully at maintaining the pretense that they are scientists.


  1. "prelapsarian" refers to the period between the creation of the world and the Fall of Man
  2. Web Archive of Glenn Morton's site
  4. Summa Theologica FP Q2 A3 RO1