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Creation 15(4):10–11, September 1993

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Ghostly coincidence in an unusual fish


Derek Ramsey, commons.wikimedia.org

At first glance, you might think that a passing barracuda took a bite out of the underside of this fish. This unusual and beautiful creature is the black ghost knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons), which lives in the Amazon River.

There is an amazing feature to this curious-looking organism. The black ghost knifefish is an electric fish which hunts for small prey using what is known as an ‘active’ electrical sense.1

Every second, its specialized electric organ generates a stream of hundreds of tiny electrical pulses outwards into the water. These pulses then travel back to the organ through thousands of special conductive pores on the fish’s body, especially its head. As the pulses return, specialized electric receptors under the pores, connected to the brain, sense any changes in the returning pulses caused by an object in the water distorting the electric field radiating from the fish.

This fish has rather poor vision, but its astounding ‘electric sense’ helps it to ‘see’ its prey in the murky river water.

It is difficult enough to envisage how such a complex system could have developed through trial and error mutation/selection. An even greater difficulty for a thoughtful evolutionist is the remarkable fact that this same sort of electric sense exists in other fish, such as the African elephant snout fish. According to evolutionary theory, it is universally agreed that this fish could not have inherited it from the same ancestor as the black ghost knife.

In other words, if evolution is true, the same sort of complex system must have evolved more than once! These sorts of conundrums are common for believers in evolution.

Hunting in reverse

Most electric fish are very skilled at swimming backwards. The black ghost knifefish pictured here approaches its prey in this way, because the electric sense is not focused like an eye, but more like a ‘scanner’. If the fish were to swim forwards towards its prey, by the time the scan was finished, the prey fish would be at its tail. By swimming up to its prey backwards, the predator is ready to grab it with a forward lunge when it has been identified by the electric scan.

Where different creatures have similar complex organs, this is regarded as evidence that they had a common ancestor, rather than a common Designer. However, often this ‘common ancestor’ explanation is recognized as impossible for other reasons. For example, the eye of the squid and the eye of man are remarkably similar, but there could not, in consistent evolutionary theory, be a common ancestor for man and squid from which both inherited the eye.

In such cases, no matter how incredible the similarity, it has to be passed off as so-called ‘convergent’ or ‘parallel’ evolution. This means that, by chance, the two groups of electric fish ‘developed’ a virtually identical system. This would require substantial numbers of chance mutations to provide the right genetic information on which selection could operate to produce the near-identical result.

This sort of ‘convergence coincidence’ occurs so frequently that the argument that similarities prove evolution really loses any philosophical force it may have had. Any evidence from similarity can be made to fit. Where similarities fit the theory of common ancestry, it’s called evidence for evolution—where it doesn’t, it’s called evidence for ‘convergent evolution’, regardless of how large the mathematical improbabilities might be.

The evidence of electric fish beautifully fits the creation explanation—the use of similar intelligent design features in more than one separately created kind of fish.2


  1. Why do electric fish swim backwards?, New Scientist 1869:13, April 1993. Return to text.
  2. A kind is a genetically inter-related group, not genetically related to any other groups. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Richard L.
Hi Mike A,

Re the “sheds light on” expression of which you are rightfully wary, Phillip Skell ‘sheds light on’ the inadequacy or invalidity of that expression. (Skell was a chemist member of the US National Academy of Sciences. While he was a non-Christian [as far as I know], he wrote a strongly worded critique against the idea that everything in biology has to be understood “in light of” evolution. CMI has quoted him.)

In part of Philip Skell’s writing, he rebuts the idea that evolution is having more success in explaining findings. After he had interviewed many prominent researchers, Skell says, “Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, AFTER the breakthroughs, as an interesting NARRATIVE GLOSS [“Gloss” originally meant an extra comment in the margin].” Later on, when Skell is referring to the examples and argumentation of an evolution promoter, Skell says, “… this passage illustrates my point. The efforts mentioned there are not experimental biology; they are ATTEMPTS TO EXPLAIN already authenticated phenomena IN DARWINIAN TERMS, things like human nature…” (emphasis and square-bracket comments mine)

Darwinian theory has no positive explanation or contribution towards actual hard-science discoveries. Skell’s own research gives proof of this absence—and the related improper use of the “sheds light on” expression. Earlier in his writing, Philip Skell says, “I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.”

Please understand the “sheds light on” expressions--and the article's "convergent evolution" critique--in light of these underlying dynamics. You are right to be wary of those expressions.
Mike A.
Thanks for this article. It seems every day on main stream media sites here in Canada, we see articles that "shed light" on evolution. It doesn't matter what the actual data or observations are, they will shed light on evolution. Rather than providing evidence for the theory of evolution, it shows the prior assumptions that inform how they interpret the evidence in a certain way.
I see the phrase so often that I'm wondering if the phrase "sheds light on..." is one that has intentionally been put forward as approved wording that catches any and every piece of evidence no matter how counter-intuitive.
Chris N.
After reading the article about the black ghost knife fish I can only think, God is such a great creator, he wanted to give his little fish a real buzz and enjoyment in life.

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