Monday, September 15, 2014

Resuscitation and some old fleas

I've recently been enduring "encouragement" (that's a nice word) to revive and resuscitate my blog, mostly from one person who continues to suggest articles I ought to write and even tells me what he thinks I could say.  It's kind of like the persistent widow and the unjust judge, which makes me the unjust judge.  In the face of his relentless enthusiasm for my opinion (which I admit is a little odd), I have decided to try posting something once a week.  That's a schedule that might be too ambitious, but hopefully I can come up with something every week that's worth writing about and the time to write about it.

The past few weeks have had some interesting science stories, from alleged genetic testing on Jack the Ripper (which Smithsonian mag finds legitimately doubt-worthy), to the world's largest sauropod (behold Dreadnoughtus), to a 24-year old woman born without a cerebellum (How is that possible!?  Check it out.), but being the odd bird that I am, I'm going to talk here about a report of Cretaceous fleas.

Why fleas?  Well, as you know, I'm a young-age creationist.  As such, I believe that God created the world in some form of physical goodness, which it no longer displays because of human sin.  Beyond that belief, I find it somewhat difficult to pin down the specifics, especially as a biologist.  I look at biology, and I find predators, parasites, pathogens, and poisons that make me wonder whether such features were part of that original creation or not.  For example, what about ebola or anthrax?  Are these things that Adam would have to watch out for?  Or lesser things, like mosquitoes or fleas?  Were such creatures always the way they are now?

That's my context for being interested in a paper by Gao et al. in BMC Evolutionary Biology reporting an exquisite fossil flea with a distended abdomen.  There are other fossil fleas from the Mesozoic, but what caught my eye this time was the distended abdomen.  The authors suggest that this flea had just feasted on blood before it died.

Another point of context: As a young-age creationist, I view a big chunk of the fossil record as the remnants of the Flood of Noah's day.  Instead of depicting millions of years of development, I think that Flood-deposited fossil record tells us something about what the world was like just before the Flood.  So when Gao et al. interpret their results in terms of flea evolution and the origin of modern fleas' blood sucking adaptations, I look at this as a hint about what fleas were like just before the Flood.  And fleas were apparently blood-sucking parasites then too.

What do these fleas mean for creationist interpretations of earth history?  Well, there's sort of a tendency among my fellow creationist (and me too) to view the Fall as an event where God basically allowed things to fall apart.  That idea would suggest that the modern world of disease and death developed slowly as life on this planet adapted to the new reality of death, which was absent from God's original creation.

In recent years, though, I've been thinking that this idea doesn't work very well.  Our modern world of death is too well-designed to be some random adaptation to death.  Death works too well.  I'm beginning to think that if the Fall brought physical death to creation (which I think it did), then it must have involved a considerable re-design of what the original creation was.  I think these pre-Flood fleas fit this idea of re-design quite well, in that they were blood-sucking parasites.  There's no hint here of a pre-blood-sucking-parasite existence, which suggests that fleas were fleas from the moment God re-designed the world at the Fall.

Or maybe fleas aren't part of the Fall at all?  I don't know.  That might be a little too radical.

Read all about it:

Gao et al. 2014. The first flea with fully distended abdomen from the Early Cretaceous of China.  BMC Evol Biol 14:168.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.