The misleading name-game
[Ed. note: see cautionary note below]
Typically, before biology students plod through the eight major insect orders, their textbook first offers some marvellous features of these winged creepers. These include the compound eye in many adults, scent hormones that mark territories and routes, complex social behaviours, antennae that smell or touch, and, of course, the remarkable workings of insect metamorphosis.
The amazing transformation of a caterpillar, via a pupa, into a majestic butterfly is one of the most dramatic processes in the living world. This and similar processes in other insects are called metamorphosis, from the Greek meaning ‘change of form’. The internal organs of the caterpillar dissolve into a seemingly amorphous blob, before reforming as the markedly different innards of a radically different creature—all while the metabolism of life continues in some way!
The instructions for every stage of this entire marvellous process all have to be encoded in the ‘program’ contained within the egg of the butterfly. No evolutionist has even come close to describing how such a stunning example of intelligence programmed into matter could have come about by step-by-step evolution, all the while maintaining the organism’s viability.
But our purpose here is not to present this evidence of creative intelligence so much as to highlight an example of the biased labels and loaded terms which often appear in evolutionary biology.
Students learn that metamorphosis is divided into two types: ‘complete’ and ‘incomplete’. The former includes the radical four-stage progression of egg, larva, pupa and adult, as found in butterflies. The latter includes the three-stage progression of egg, nymph and adult (as in the grasshopper), although the nymph-to-adult change comes in several steps, each larger through moulting, but essentially the same in form.
‘Incomplete’ metamorphosis, however, is anything but incomplete. Since metamorphosis is in fact always a complete, successful series of events, the term is erroneous and misleading.
So where does this whole idea of incompleteness come from? What does the development of a grasshopper lack? The entomologist (a biologist who studies insects) would say it lacks the pupal stage. But can something lack a stage it never needed nor was ever intended to have? Do not all insects, in their development, also lack an egg membrane and calcium carbonate shell, or a marsupial pouch, or umbilical cord? Granted, we don’t think of these things as missing, because they are unique to other kinds of creatures. And yet insects that undergo three-stage metamorphosis are of different kinds than those that experience four-stage metamorphosis. Only when one assumes that these two categories of insects are truly related by evolutionary common ancestry does one need to suggest incompleteness! In other words, the term itself only exists because of a prior belief in evolution.
Evolutionary entomologists believe that by virtue of their physical similarities, all insects must have a common ancestry. As such, the developmental process with fewer dramatic changes is considered the more ‘primitive’, deficient one.
But perhaps the entomologist should consider why alleged evolutionary ‘leftovers’ are so successful today. So-called ‘incomplete’ metamorphosis works splendidly. A grasshopper or cricket reaches adulthood as a complete creature. Its developmental process is a complete one because the purpose of maturity is achieved.
Furthermore, insects do not have a ‘corner’ on radical transformation. Metamorphoses also occur among amphibians and, to varying degrees, in all living things. Even the rudimentary sponge, for instance, begins life as a free-swimming larva, but matures as a sessile (non-moving) adult of a different form altogether. Any developmental process that lacks a stage found in another creature could be regarded as incomplete. So one might pose the question, ‘What is the ideal metamorphosis?’ The answer: the ideal metamorphosis is the one that God fashioned for each kind of creature, insect or otherwise.
Yet, sure enough, the dubious distinction of ‘incomplete’ is granted not only among insects. The term also arises when describing flowers. An ‘incomplete’ flower is one that lacks any of the following: stamens, pistils, sepals or petals. Again, there is nothing incomplete about the flower, as it still possesses beauty, and can pollinate with complementary ‘incomplete’ flowers. Within a plant kind that produces either staminate or pistillate flowers, it is likely that its flowers have formed this way since the Creation. One also finds suggestions of ‘incompleteness’, without the actual use of the term, when an evolutionist speaks of a monkey ‘lacking’ the advantages of an opposable thumb.
God declared the creation good (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), and, at its conclusion, regarded it as finished or complete (Gen. 2:1). Today, the creation is only incomplete on account of what has been lost (through the Fall, the Flood, and extinction of species), not because of things never gained (through evolution).
Moreover, if we must note creation’s deficiencies, which of us is complete? Any man or woman in an unregenerate state suffers from the ultimate lack: a severed relationship with God. Even regenerated believers must undergo development. As James put it (1:2–4), the testing of our faith moves us toward completion of character: perfection, which Paul reminds us (in Philippians 3:12–14) is never obtained in this life. Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, is a prerequisite for man’s ultimate completeness.
Chard Berndt has taught high school sciences for eight years and is studying at the Institute for Creation Research graduate school. He has authored Biblical Classification of Life: A Framework and Reference for Authentic Biblical Biology, reviewed in Journal of Creation 15(3):27–28, 2001.
[Ed. note: some of the editorial staff thought disagreed with the main claim of the article, and after the article was published, we received a letter from a creationist entomologist who said that the term was quote innocent:
I hope you don't think I'm nit-picking, but I feel that to stand up for the truth it’s important to get facts right, even minor ones (after all, evolutionists like to nit-pick when they try to discredit creationists). The author of the article ‘Metamorphosis’ states that entomologists call ‘incomplete metamorphosis’ incomplete because the life cycle misses the pupal stage.
In fact, this term is actually not ‘erroneous or misleading’ as stated. ‘Metamorphosis’ means ‘transformation’ or ‘change’. Insects which have ‘complete’ or ‘true’ Metamorphosis (e.g. butterflies)undergo a ‘complete transformation’ or ‘complete metamorphosis’ i.e. caterpillars are physically completely different to butterflies. Insects (e.g. grasshoppers)which undergo ‘incomplete metamorphosis’ are those which have not completely changed during development i.e. the juvenile closely resembles the adult. Although evolutionists believe ‘incomplete metamorphosis’ insects to be more ‘primitive’ than those that undergo complete metatmorphosis, the actual term is not an evolutionary one.