5.16.2008

The Incredibly Edible Intelligently Designed Hen's Egg


Geoffrey Simmons has another breathtakingly inane post on the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Christianity Culture's Evolution News & Views blog-not-a-blog. As discussed in my last post about him, he's obviously trolling for a few suckers to buy his book. In his latest I'm amazingly amazed post, he claims
When it comes to citing examples of purposeful design, nearly every author likes to point out the hen’s egg. It’s really quite remarkable. Despite having a shell that is a mere 0.35 mm think, they don’t break when a parent sits on them. [emphasis added]
What makes this so remarkable is that apparently natural selection would favor eggs that break when the mother hen sits on them. Otherwise, this wouldn't really be that amazing...it would simply be a case of evolution laws in action. But recall that raptor eggs (the avian variety, eg. hawks, eagles, etc.) were frequently broken by the mother when DDT was entered into the mix, resulting in thinner eggshell walls. Obviously, the intelligent designer didn't plan on that ever happening! He goes on to say
Under microscopy, one can see the shell is a foamlike structure that resists cracking. Gases and water pass through 10,000 pores that average 17 micrometers in diameter. Ultimately, 6 liters of oxygen will have been taken in and 4.5 liters of carbon dioxide given off. The yolk is its food. All life support systems are self-contained, like a space shuttle.
...except for a heat lamp, otherwise the hen would have no need of sitting on the egg. Say, that reminds me of all the hard-shelled eggs deposited by reptiles. Often have I seen the nurturing tortoise and alligator sitting on their nest of eggs. I mean, they do do that, don't they? Why else would a designer design hard-shelled eggs for reptiles, as well as an egg-tooth for the hatchlings?

Hopefully, you've used your snarky-tooth by now to puncture through my hard-shelled snarkiness. We all know that reptiles do not sit on their eggs. Mostly (though not always) they lay 'em and leave 'em. So, you can either accept these two contradictory examples of intelligent design, or you can accept that hens eggs and reptile eggs are connected by a common thread in evolution and, while egg shells certainly offer protection from the weight of the mother, this is incidental to the reason why hard egg shells were developed in the first place.

One more point. Eggs are vulnerable to predators. The fox, snake, and gila monster like to raid nests and partake of these tasty morsels. And why not? Nature makes them crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside. But if I was a designer concerned about a hen breaking her eggs when she sat on them, I might also be concerned about the ferret running off with them. So, I think I would choose some composite material for the egg shell, something made of nanotubes, something indestructible by prey. I think I would also include an internal Air Conditioning/Heating unit. And I would program this new eggshell (Eggshell 2.0) to open automatically at the proper time, like a flower blooming. That'll make entering the world a little easier on the chick...no need to make it work so hard in its very first few minutes of life.

But that's just me. While I think the egg is indeed remarkable, it doesn't make me dizzy as it apparently does for Geoffrey Simmons.

P.S. - see my latest on Simmons here.

(edited 5/19/08 - correct typo)
(edited 5/21/08 - add link)

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm always amazed by the sky fairies oversight of making egg shells poisonous or at least taste really, really bad. Like, what's with favoring the plants, they can get nasty tasting berries and leaves?
Nothing like a bit of design consistency...

Anonymous said...

He says "The yolk is its food." If the yolk is the food, what part develops into the chick? Just asking because I'm ignorant.

bad Jim said...

In an unfertilized egg, the part that would have turned into a chick is a speck too small to notice. Just one cell, to a first approximation.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 2
In a fertilized egg, it starts out as a little speck on the surface of the yolk. It's pretty neat to see at early stages. You can see the circulatory system working-when it's warm enough, let it cool down and it slows down and stops, just as if its mother got up. Then if you warm it up it starts again. Early on, it is thin enough that you can put one on an overhead projector. I made a tracing that way in school.

Erica said...

Considering the amazing work on the eggshell structure but the poor job on the HVAC, it is clear that The Designer aced mechanics but failed thermodynamics while pursuing his Design Degree.

(Which actually works out great, because he won't have incorporated heat death of the universe in his design...)

Just Al said...

I guess it would be crass to point out to Simmons that mother birds do not actually sit on their eggs, but simply squat over them? And that the eggshell is able to withstand the greatest force (on the ends) in a direction that its very shape prevents it from ever facing?

Except during the equinoxes, of course ;-)

It would seem "intelligent" design is all relative. In the land of the abysmally stupid, mere morons seem brilliant.

The skepTick said...

Another point about Intelligently Designed Eggs (IDEs). Wouldn't it be nice if the hens laid predecorated IDEs on Easter? Why limit yourself to white and brown? Expand the palette, be bold, be artistic...be a CREATIVE intelligent designer.

And don't forget chocolate easter eggs. Delicious.

CortxVortx said...

Under microscopy, one can see the shell is a foamlike structure that resists cracking. Gases and water pass through 10,000 pores that average 17 micrometers in diameter. Ultimately, 6 liters of oxygen will have been taken in and 4.5 liters of carbon dioxide given off. The yolk is its food. All life support systems are self-contained, like a space shuttle.

After going to great length to quote an actual scientific source that the egg exchanges gases with its environment, he ends by saying it is self-contained.

Contradicting oneself within the same paragraph. Par for cretinists.

Calli Arcale said...

I seem to recall hearing at one time in the past that most birds eggs are actually not strong enough to support the mother's weight if she sits straight down on them. She (or in many species, she *and* he, taking turns) has to sit on the egg just right or it will indeed break.

And not all birds stop brooding just because the eggs have hatched. In many species, the chicks need to be incubated too. And they are incubated without the benefit of a protective shell.

Of course, there are even more remarkable adaptations than this. The brood pouch under the bellies of male and female emperor penguins, for instance. They do not sit on their eggs but instead perch them on their feet and drape their pouches over them to keep them warm. (And contrary to popular myth, the mother doesn't just abandon her mate. When she returns from hunting, they trade off.)

BTW, regarding the question about yolks, did you know that humans produce yolks too? Seriously! Yet we do not need one like birds do, since we are placental mammals. So why do we have one, if not a legacy of our egg-bearing ancestors?

JanieBelle said...

This post really needs a BPSDB logo stamped on it.

Pablo said...

"BTW, regarding the question about yolks, did you know that humans produce yolks too?"

Indeedy do! I even have a picture of one (well, the yolk sack) from an ultrasound of my baby taken at 7 wks 5 days!

(ok, I just wanted to brag about my baby)

Tom said...

Minor typo at the end:

"make it works so hard"

The skepTick said...

Pablo said
"(ok, I just wanted to brag about my baby)"

Congratulations. Just watch that egg tooth when it's born...those things can poke your eye out.

Tom said
"Minor typo at the end"

Thanks. My fingers sometimes do what they want rather than what they're told. For instance, there was this one time, at band camp, when .ajeiajf zxxyei!

Sabrina said...

Loved the post, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of the time I overheard three engineers discussing the nature and existence of God.

The first one said: "When I look at the natural world, everywhere I look I see evidence of an underlying design. It is obvious to me that there must have been a Designer. Why just look at the human body! From the way the human muscular system and human skeletan system work together so well it is obvsiou to me that it must have been designed, and that the designer is another Mechanical Engineer."

The second engineer replied: "Hold on a second there buddy. I agree that the human body provides clear evidence that the Universe had a designer. But, so far as I am concerned, the human brain and the human nervous system are clear proof that the Designer was an Electrical Engineer!"

The third engineer added: "While I agree the human body is evidence of God's underlying design, it is obvious to me that God must be a Civil Engineer. After all, who else would put the major recreational area right next to the sewage disposal system?"

eag said...

And of course we're not good at anything by comparison with other creatures although we like to think we're the best, a legacy of the Victorians.
By the way birds don't incubate their young once they're hatched, incubation is for eggs!! Just a pedantic point but we wouldn't want to mislead anyone, especially The Designer.
Another interesting and practical fact about eggs and birds is that a clutch is laid over time and only begins development once the hen/bird decides it's time to start incubation, usually dependent on clutch size.So does this mean hens/birds/geese can count?In geese the clutch size is usually 6 and if you remove some she will make up the number, back to the optimal size.
What we don't understand scientists will invent a piece of research to explain, often at great expense, for little use or benefit and often giving the result we all knew instinctively anyway.

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