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Creation 30(4):56, September 2008

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Watch a glasswing passing (without flying colours)


Rich Young flickr.com/young-in-panama (CC BY 2.0)Glasswing butterfly

Glasswing butterflies1 (e.g. certain Pteronymia spp.) have large clear patches on their wings.

Many would claim they ‘evolved’ transparent wings (to minimize their visibility to predators). Christians might retort that only a Creator could have made these beautiful see-through wings. Who’s right?

Actually the ‘glass’ wing areas are missing a feature of coloured butterfly wings—scales. Both glasswings and colourful butterflies have transparent wing membranes, but colourful butterflies have pigmented or translucent scales covering them. In iridescent butterflies, by diffracting the light rays in a complex manner, the translucent scales (not pigments) produce the vivid colours, more vibrant than any painting.2 The electron microscope reveals ‘how complex the structures are and difficult to fabricate’.3

Such complexity, which man with all his technology struggles to copy, was surely constructed by Someone even more intelligent (Romans 1:20).

So, colourful (and especially iridescent) butterflies reflect more strongly the Creator’s handiwork than do glasswings. In this post-Fall ‘bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:19–22), glasswings have evidently lost genetic information (for scales)—in common with other observed mutations.

Such mutations demonstrate ‘devolution’, not evolution.4 Natural selection sometimes favours defects—e.g. the glasswing is likely less visible to predators than are colourful butterflies. But this is not evolution—no new information has been produced, notwithstanding that Pteronymia has been given its own genus name, separate from other (coloured) types of Nymphalid butterflies.5

And the fact that the glasswing can fly, just like butterflies with scales,6 confounds evolutionists on two counts. First, the aerodynamic intricacies of butterfly flight defy evolutionary explanation, pointing instead to a Creator.6 Second, the glasswing ‘proves scales are not needed for flight’,7 indicating that the original colourful butterflies were ‘over-engineered’ for flight.8

So why did the Creator bother to make colourful butterflies?

Maybe it’s because God appreciates beauty, and, given that we’re made in His image, He knew that we would, too.

References and notes

  1. Also known as clearwing butterflies. Return to text.
  2. Sarfati, J., Beautiful black and blue butterflies, Journal of Creation 19(1):9–10, 2005. Return to text.
  3. Graydon, O., Blue microstructures mimic nature, Optics.org, optics.org/cws/article/research/18712, 8 December 2003. Return to text.
  4. I.e., the changes are downhill, not the ‘uphill’ ones evolutionary theory requires. See: Wieland, C., The evolution train’s a-comin (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction), Creation 24(2):16–19, 2002. Return to text.
  5. Speciation is not evolution. See: The Heliconius hybrid butterfly: speciation yes, evolution no, 23 June 2006. Return to text.
  6. Why a butterfly flutters by, Creation 26(2):56, 2004. Return to text.
  7. Brockman, N., The delicate wings of a butterfly, Iowa State University Extension News, www.extension.iastate.edu/newsrel/2004/dec04/dec0431.html, 20 December 2004. Return to text.
  8. Examples of ‘over-engineering’ abound in nature, presenting a major difficulty for evolutionary theory. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Nate T.
Nice article. One comment though: it seems, at least by the photo, that the glasswing butterflies have not lost how to make colors since there are still colored regions on their wings. It would seem it was just switched off in those clear regions. Do we consider switching on and off a gain/loss of information?
David Catchpoole
Hi Nate, you’re quite right about glasswing butterflies still having some coloured parts on their wings, i.e. sections of the wing which still have scales—it is the wing scales that provide the colour.

At present, no-one has yet determined whether the lack of scales on the transparent sections of the wings is because there is a controlling genetic switch which is turned “off”, or whether the genetic information has in fact been corrupted:
  1. If there is a switch, then whether it is “on” or “off” it is neither a gain nor a loss in information, as the information is already/still there, so does not support evolution, but rather points to programmed adaptation.
  2. If the genetic information has been corrupted, then this represents a definite loss of information, the exact opposite of what goo-to-glasswings evolution would require.


David Catchpoole
Brian S.
The author seems to think that evolution only involves acquisition of new features. Evolution is not always progressive in that sense. Evolution simply means descent with modification. If loss of a feature provides a selective advantage, it will be favored and become more common. This would be an example of evolution by natural selection, not de-evolution, which is not a term I find in biology textbooks.

Also, the author does not seem to appreciate the beauty of this organism, which can be appreciated equally, I think, from either a creationist or naturalistic perspective.
Carl Wieland
Dear Brian

Many thanks for your feedback. Note that we are fully aware that evolutionary theory is not necessarily progressive. However, the concept of microbes to mankind involves a NET gain of genetic information. Therefore in order to make the concept feasible, it would be helpful if there were information-gaining processes taking place all around us in the biosphere on a scale that would make the neoDarwinian mechanism mathematically plausible. I.e. a few hundred examples, at least. The unfortunate fact is that the examples of ‘evolution happening’ in the textbooks are all information-losing processes. They don’t contradict the evolutionary paradigm, but they fail to demonstrate it. It is therefore intellectually unsound to refer to them as if they did, which is what happens all the time.

To summarize: the evolutionary paradigm requires that Natural Selection/Mutation be capable of huge amounts of informationally uphill change. The creationist paradigm does not. The fact that we repeatedly see the downhill variety as the alleged ‘evidence in front of our eyes’ is surely significant.

Carl W

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