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Creation 31(4):47, September 2009

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Snakes: designed to kill?

stockxpertSnakes: designed to kill?


See update to this article below.

Snakes today not only move about in various ways, but they have diversified into numerous species over the several thousand years since the Great Flood. All are complex creatures with specialized bodies and mouths well-suited to their particular niches and diets—all are carnivores. Some of the different ways in which snakes catch and dispatch their prey include:

  • The sophisticated infra-red heat sense of the pit viper, for detecting prey’s body heat—it can pick temperature differences of only 0.003°C!1,2
  • A highly flexible skull in many snakes—adjacent skull bones can move in relation to one another—and jaw bones that come apart (held together by an elastic ligament), to swallow large prey,3 sometimes bigger than the snake itself!
  • The complex venom of poisonous snakes—a nasty cocktail of up to dozens of different toxins (e.g. enzymes) that break down body tissues (proteins and cell membranes) and/or block nerve action. Interestingly, biologists found recently that different families of snakes have more toxin genes in common than was previously thought, some used in prey capture and some in defense.4
  • The venom-injection system of vipers—an irreducibly complex system5 of long, hollow fangs, fed by large ducts from paired venom glands, that fold back along the upper jaw when the mouth is closed, but swing forward into striking position when the snake bites.6

A pre-Fall purpose?

What purpose did these structures have in the originally perfect creation?

Even snakes’ behaviours changed at the Fall—since that time, it seems that snakes have been ‘programmed’ (by their genetic makeup) to kill to eat. Several possibilities exist. Either these attack structures are Creation-week designs (but served a different function before the Fall), or they appeared as a consequence of the Curse.

The sophisticated hollow fangs and venom of certain snakes make it unlikely that they are Creation-week designs that have simply degenerated since the Fall—they seem well designed to do what they do, and they do it very efficiently! In fact, the discovery that non-venomous snakes also have active venom glands is fascinating from a creationist point of view.7 This research points to a sort of predator/prey arms race with toxins ending up as part of the venom which previously had other uses; e.g. a gene involved in digestion might, through a mutation (a degenerative, downhill change) have become expressed in the venom gland.8 Alternatively, since God foreknew the Fall of humankind (Genesis 3), perhaps the genetic information for these rather macabre features (including toxic venom) was created originally, but only switched on as part of the Curse—this idea fits well with the modern understanding of gene regulation.

Another possibility is that God fundamentally redesigned creatures like snakes (at the genetic level) after the Fall. At the very least, God apparently ‘redesigned’ the serpent, through which Satan spoke to Eve, so that it had to crawl on its belly.9 This does have God designing ‘bad things’ but, as with all things in a Fallen world, it is His sovereign right to judge sin—and we don’t read that God pronounced things “very good” (unlike in Genesis 1:31) after the Fall! Of course, one or more explanations might apply to the various different snake attack structures that we see today. This is informed speculation though, because the scriptural record is silent on these matters.

Update: 22 April 2024

Since this article was published, scientists have discovered that almost all species of snakes have tiny indentations at the base of their teeth called plicidentine. In venomous species, there are marked grooves in the plicidentine of the fangs, so researchers wonder if the deadly bite of venomous species may have its origin in these tiny indentations.

When the snake bites into its victim, glands pump out venom which travels along the grooves and into the prey victim. The team of herpetologists published their findings in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.10 They speculate that such a venom-delivery system developed from snakes with toxic saliva and the tiny tooth indentations, not once, but multiple times. How should biblical creationists respond?

That the evolutionists propose that venomous snakes evolved independently multiple times shows that evolution (common ancestry) does not explain it. It also suggests that such is within the bounds of adaptation within the created snake kind.

The deepening of grooves within a snake’s fangs is conceivably within the bounds of the creation model where creatures were designed to vary.11 Likewise, the increasing amount or toxicity of a substance in the saliva-producing glands, such that it becomes more deadly. And such changes need not have happened super-slowly within a Creation-Curse framework—if God pre-programmed the DNA accordingly, these ‘degenerations’ from a state of benign perfection could have occurred along with all the other effects of the Curse upon animals and plants (Genesis 3; compare Romans 8:20–21).12

Posted on homepage: 15 November 2010

References and notes

  1. Shine, R., Snakes, in: Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, 2nd edition, Weldon Owen Pty Limited, Fog City Press, California, USA, pp. 204–205, 2003. The author, Dr Richard Shine, is Professor of Evolutionary Biology, University of Sydney, Australia. Return to text.
  2. Wieland, C., Snakes do eat dust!, Creation 10(4):38, 1988; creation.com/snakedust. Return to text.
  3. Ref. 1, p. 177. Return to text.
  4. Pahari, S., Mackessy, S.P. and Manjunatha Kini, R., The venom gland transcriptome of the Desert Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus edwardsii): towards an understanding of venom composition among advanced snakes (superfamily Colubroidea), BMC Molecular Biology 8:115, 2007; biomedcentral.com. Return to text.
  5. A system that shows irreducible complexity is made up of several interacting parts, all of which are vital to the function. Therefore, such a system cannot be produced by slight, successive changes to a precursor. See Behe, M., Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, The Free Press, New York, USA, p. 39, 1996. Return to text.
  6. Ref. 1, p. 208. Return to text.
  7. Fry, B.G. et al., Early evolution of the venom system in lizards and snakes, Nature 439(7076):584–588, 2 February 2006. Return to text.
  8. Duane, D., Dr Fry’s near fatal attraction, nationalgeographic.com, 2 September 2008. Return to text.
  9. See Bell, P., Of snakes, lizards and mosasaurs—evolutionists puzzle over snake origins, Creation 31(3):15–17, 2009; creation.com/snakes. Return to text.
  10. Palci, A. et al, Plicidentine and the repeated origins of snake venom fangs, Proc. Royal Soc. B 288: 20211391, 11 August 2021 | doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1391. Return to text.
  11. Carter, R., Species were designed to change, part 1: But how much change is allowed? 1 July 2021; Species were designed to change, part 2: Speciation and the limits of change, 22 July 2021; Species were designed to change, part 3: The tangled web of (intrabaraminic) life, 12 August 2021. Return to text.
  12. How did bad things come about? chapter 6 in: Batten, D. (ed.), The Creation Answers Book, 8th edition, Creation Book Publishers, 2019. Return to text.

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