Fish Fry Part 4 – Lungfish

G’day, and welcome to Part 4 of this 5 part series covering the WCG/Ambassador Press booklet Some Fishy Stories, by Garner Ted Armstrong. In Part 1 you can find introductory material; thus, without further ado, the Lungfish…

The fourth fish that GTA uses to show that the natural world is too amazingly complex to come about through evolution, and thus must be the result of creation, is the Lungfish. The six species of this unusual fish are spread through South America, Africa, and Australia. As their name suggests, they have lungs; they also have fins that they use as primitive feet; furthermore, species in S. America and Africa can estivate, which is, basically, summer hibernation.

I am a FISH with LUNGS. Deal with it.

I am a FISH with LUNGS. Deal with it.

So, a fairly amazing creature! The question is, though, is it too amazing to have come about through natural processes–is it too amazing/too complex to have come about as a result of descent with modification coupled with natural selection?

All I Need is the Air That I Breathe…

GTA provides a more in-depth description of the lungfish:

“Lungfishes belong to the ancient order of the dipnoans–fishes with both gills and lungs. They date back…to the middle of the Devonian, when ponds and streams began to dry up and many fishes died.

“The lungfishes were not only able to breathe air, but to travel from mudpuddle to mudpuddle on paddlelike fins. Eventually they acquired the ability to lie dormant in the mud, where they waited for the seasonal rains” (The Fishes F. D. Ommanney and the Editors of Life, p. 77)

He then goes on to remind us that the very act of breathing is incredibly complex when you come right down to it.

How could such a marvelous mechanism as the lung, with its millions of tiny globules of thin membrane, or “air sacs” with the labyrinth of air tubes, sensory nerves, interlocking arteries and blood vessels, bronchial tubes, esophagus, and the like, develop gradually?

That is a good question, and one that needs to be answered if the idea of evolution is to have any serious explanatory power. Unfortunately for us here, I won’t go into it in depth, as it would require a book to explain. If you are terribly curious, you might google “evolution of breathing”–a nice list of scholarly and more accessible articles pops up. As for lungs in fish, there’s plenty of material.

I might also say something to the effect that if he is trying to use the Complexity of Breathing as an argument against the possibility it developed naturally, then it would be interesting to consider the complexity of any deity that would have to exist in order to create breathing, and life, the universe, and everything.

Are there any half-lungs or half-gills around today? Are there any partly functional lungs, and partly functional gills? (Pg 22 of the booklet, or Pg 24 of the PDF, which you can find here).

Why, yes. Yes there are. You quoted from a book that told you there were. Lungfish have both lungs and gills. In the African and S. American species, the gills are used when the fish is young, but cease to function as it ages, thus it must breathe air (is an obligate air-breather). The Australian lungfish has only one lung and relies primarily on its gills, using the lung only when the water is muddy and stagnant. The presence of both, I think, suggests that either on their own is not adequate–this is particularly true of the Australian species.

He goes on in the next section (which I will cover in more depth shortly) to say, “There is no such thing as an imperfect, or partly formed, or inadequate, gill. Either it produces air for the fish, and it survives, or it does not.” That seems reasonable enough, until you look at the world around you. Sadly, it isn’t as Either/Or as he imagines. Ahhh, the hubris of ignorance.

True, it was only in the 1940s (so the ignorance may be excusable, though not the accompanying hubris) that it was theorized that gills grew (the fossil record apparently shows gills becoming larger over time) as a response to the more predatory nature of fish, as they needed more oxygen to chase food. By 2010, however, that idea is being challenged; maybe gills developed in order to exchange ions (potassium, sodium) with the water they were in and were only used for breathing later. Embryonic Rainbow Trout were tested and it was weeks before the gills began to exchange more oxygen than the skin…so gills for respiration were not necessarily required from the beginning!

Take a look at the Arapaima, or Pirarucu, which is a South American fish. “In addition to gills, it has a modified and enlarged swim bladder, composed of lung-like tissue, which enables it to extract oxygen from the air.” Hmmm…”a modified and enlarged swim bladder, composed of lung-like tissue”. I’m sorry, but that sounds like a “partly functional lung” to me. In fact, I would call that “half a lung”. I’m actually a little surprised this fish is still around, as apparently only the young have functional gills; when it grows up it must surface approximately every 10-20min to breathe–that’s half a lung for you! By contrast, dolphins and whales do far better with their fully developed lungs.

When gills just ain't good enough...

When gills just ain’t good enough…

Just to rub it in, here is a list of air-breathing fish put together by the Federation of British Aquatic Societies–a bunch of Brits who really like fish. You’ll notice many different forms of air-breathing apparatus. Some are more efficient than others, some resemble true lungs more than others–most are “part lungs”.

Special Creation from the God the WCG preached makes one wonder why there is not one Perfect form of breathing structure, and also why the deity in question would place fish in environments that would not sustain them unless he gave them extra oxygen obtaining mechanisms.

Them Bones, Them Bones

In the next section, Garner Ted asserts that there are no intermediate species–of any animal, anywhere. As it relates to the “supposed” ancestors of the lungfish, he asks

How did they survive? …

Did they have good gills? If so, then they were surviving. And if they were surviving, and passing along the same characteristics for survival to their offspring, then their offspring would look just like they did, and would be surviving in the same way, and there was no need to change.

Yeah, I see the logic in that. If things are going well, then don’t fix what ain’t broke. However, when I look around at the world, I do not see a static world, or a world held in stability by the loving hand of a creator; I see a world of constant competition–with other species and with the environment. Has the environment always been the same everywhere? There are fossil remains of a Rainforest…in Illinois, so I would have to say No.

If the world has not changed slowly over time, thus putting new selective pressures on species (pressures that would, for example, favor fish who could better use the air trapped in their swim bladder), then that means god has created barely habitable habitats and then “souped-up” otherwise normal creatures in order to have them survive there. However, if there has been slow change over lots of time, then a fish with gills would eventually need to change, if the environment was messing with its ability to survive. Thus, fish that could gulp air at the surface and use it to oxygenate their blood survived better than those that could not; and those that survived, if they had any mutations that expanded their swim bladder, or improved it in some other way to make it ever so slightly more “lung”-like, would survive better than the others (or survive at all).

Yes, well, that’s all fine and dandy, but I can hear GTA’s imagination falling apart. “How could any of THAT happen?”

Well, first, there is evidence that the Time needed has been available. Time is not a “dodge” as GTA claims…unless god is totally Punking us and the “evidence” is all faked. Second is that beneficial mutations, relevant to the life circumstances of the species, have been observed. Microbiologist Richard Lenski has been running a 20 year experiment on E. coli. One batch, after 31,500 generations, evolved a new trait which allowed it to “eat” (metabolize) Citrate, a substance that made up their little bacteria bath area in the lab. So, if the fish in question (or any of the other numerous species of air-breathing fish) ended up in water that was continually decreasing in oxygenation (e.g. from a climate shifting to be dryer), then the relevant mutation could be expected.

Of course, the main point of this section is Intermediate Species. Are there any? I honestly do not see how he can claim there are no intermediate species. He must be thinking of Crocoducks or something. Because when you come right down to it, he is using a fish with lungs as an example of Special Creation. If a fish with lungs that can walk short distances over dry land is not an intermediate species, I don’t know what could be.

Archaeoptryx, Tiktaalik, and Homo habilis disagree.

Archaeoptryx, Tiktaalik, and Homo habilis disagree.

The lungfish come from the same general time period as Tiktaalik roseae–375million years ago (or a little older). Tiktaalik is a prime example of a transitional form, or intermediate species going from fish to tetrapods, or four-footed land vertebrates; it has fish traits and land animal traits. Most interestingly, it was not just stumbled upon, but was sought. If the Theory of Evolution has a chance of being true, we must be able to make testable predictions based upon it. They did. They found Tiktaalik, a “missing link”.

Here are a few more examples of what GTA claims are missing: Link, link, link, and link. True, Google does make all this much easier to find, and some things, like Tiktaalik, have been found only recently (2006), but enough of these examples were known when GTA was writing this book, and he had access to university libraries and research assistants, so there’s really no excuse. But, of course, when you’re steeped in dogma, no number of missing links will convince you.

The Big Sleep

I’m not covering absolutely everything, because it would be a lot of re-hash of him being purposefully absurd. But reading between the lines of the absurdity, we are assured that the ineffable creator designed poor places for fish to live and then created (or re-created after the flood) fish incapable of living there without the addition of secondary breathing gear…instead of just not designing the poor ecosystems in the first place.

But that wasn’t enough–for some reason it seems god really didn’t like the lungfish, so he put some of them in hot, dry, parts of Africa where they would have to curl up in the mud and estivate (hibernate) for months, or even years, until the rains should come again.

He does bring up a good question, though: how could something like estivation evolve?

That is still debated–it is not known what intermediate steps were involved. There are ideas, though. Humming birds go into a daily “hibernation” called Daily Torpor, wherein their whole system slows and their body temperature drops by 50%. This is a survival strategy as they consume so many calories they could not otherwise live through the night without eating. So hibernation, or estivation, does not need to be a “zero or 3 month” affair–it can come in daily doses. Could that illustrate a stepping-stone? I don’t know, but it is interesting to think about.

Again, though, I would almost think that it would be better if estivation/hibernation/daily torpor did evolve, otherwise that means that god created barely habitable climates and put animals there that only survive through radical tricks…that he had to design. So why create such harsh environments to begin with?

That doesn’t sound like Intelligent Design; that doesn’t sound like the god of “love, warmth, and humor” that GTA was mentioning when talking about the Archer fish. It does sound like what one would expect from a world of pitiless competition, where survival sometimes means finding a home on the edge of livability and, through luck (chance mutation of a beneficial variety) making it work. Survival of the Fittest does not mean Perfection, but means that those fittest to survive will–even if the “fitness” is only obtained through “duck tape and bailing wire”, a poor combination of lungs and gills, flipper feet, and a sleep mode.

So THAT'S where all the transitional forms went!

So THAT’S where all the transitional forms went!

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6 thoughts on “Fish Fry Part 4 – Lungfish

  1. Yet another excellent posting in the series: Well researched, well reasoned and well presented.

    True, it was only in the 1940s

    ?

    Not certain of that to which this pertains… GTA or another book’s author? I am easily confused. (It’s not my fault!)

    I remember the observation in Analog (article on the evolution of bats): Sure (and this is the useless premise pushed by GTA) — if you have just two or three of some species, it is likely that they could perish and natural selection wouldn’t kick in, but when you have 60 million of them, it’s quite a different story. Put up a paper tiger, shred it and burn it and show people how impressive it is, even though it’s patently silly. Facing a real tiger wouldn’t be as much fun at all.

    Anyway, another excellent job!

  2. One more thing….

    These creationists never seem to consider how insulting they could be to God: If He (She / It) created everything (I want to know where His original throne came from), how absolutely aggravating it must be for Him that they would not allow Him to take billions of years using evolution to accomplish it: A little nudge here, a little mod there.

    If God exists, aren’t they limiting Him and saying that He doesn’t have the capability to have created evolution and natural selection?

    What a bunch of idolaters!

    [See how fun being a skeptic can be!]

  3. That bit about the 1940s was talking about gills. GTA was asking “are there any imperfect gills? Gills HAVE to work perfect from the start otherwise there is no fish–no fish, no evolution.” I was saying that it was only in the 1940s that (Nobel Prize Winning) theorists first said “gills in fossil fish keep getting bigger…hmmm…maybe that is b/c certain fish were becoming more predatory and so they needed bigger gills to fuel their hunting.” Just slap a Holly 4-barrel carburetor on that thing and GO! However, recent research has shown that baby fish breathe MORE through their skin than through their gills for several weeks. So…no, gills weren’t necessarily NECESSARY from the very start.

    I might need to re-write that bit for clarity.

    Yes, plenty of paper tigers in this booklet. And yes, more “liberal” christians, who can’t stand to deny ALL the evidence, do believe in Guided Evolution…but if the Bible is Accurate, then there isn’t much of a way to read “guided evolution” into the “six days of creation”…well, there is, and it is called Day-Age Theory.

    Seriously, the fact that I know stuff like that is kind of lame–I’ve become an amateur theologian! lol

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