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Randal Rauser : Arachnologist for Christ


Randal Rauser, a Christian apologist, blogged about spider webs in 2011 and 2012. The image above is not the rotting carcass of a spider stuck in its own web. It is a photo of some thickened filaments (called stabilimentum) filled with “trash” — hence the name of the spider that produced this particular web-pattern with these oddly shaped filaments, the Trashline Orbweaver (Genus Cyclosa). Did a particular species of Trashline Orbweaver learn how to make an image of a spider and incorporate it into its web-building? Randal wrote in his two posts on spider webs:

Nobody teaches a spider. They just know how to spin a web. Don’t you think that’s a miracle?

Can a superintending intelligence categorically be excluded from that explanation?

Rauser, who is pro-evolution, and not a creationist, does not seem interested enough in the topic of the evolution of spider species or their webs to look either up on the web and share that information. Instead he wants us to look at this image and think of God. So he doesnʼt discuss anything but what a “miracle” of “superintending intelligence” such an image appears to illustrate. But does he imagine that evolutionists hypothesize that the earliest spider-like species began spinning orb-shaped webs? Some early spiders probably just lined their burrows with whatever sticky stuff they exuded, like some species of spider today. Later species may have evolved the ability to make webs that hung outside their burrows but not orb-shaped webs, rather more haphazard shapes or even a funnel shape (like an outside burrow) like some species of spider do today.

The orb-weaving species would come later. Therefore orb-shaped web making probably had precursors, from spiders that simply had silk-lined burrows, to early non-orb shaped webs, all before orb-shaped web making arose in some (not all) species. Thereʼs also peculiarities of spider anatomy and genetics that point to their probable evolutionary ancestry and changes over time. And, as jury-rigged as evolutionary change is, there have been a wide range of uses made of the sticky excretions by different species of spiders as their species divided and sub-divided over millions of years. Thereʼs a species that flings out just a string of web to catch insects flying nearby. And there are species that do not rely on web-making. One such species simply sits atop flower petals the same color as they are, see the pic below:

That species lies in wait for insects attracted to the flowerʼs nectar: Robert Frost wrote a poem after seeing a “fat dimpled” spider atop a flower of the same color as the spider. The spider had just devoured a moth that had flown unsuspectingly right into the spiderʼs jaws, “itʼs dead wings carried by the spider like a paper kite.” After encountering such a sight, Frost asked:

What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.

As for the Trashline Orbweaver and the significance itʼs “spider-shaped” web design holds for Godʼs existence, doesnʼt the architecture of an orb-web lend itself naturally to the likelihood that we humans “see” a “spider-like image?” Any orb-shaped web, if filled in with extra-sticky fibers and trash in the center (and on a few of its spokes that extend outward from the center) will look like a “spider.” So if a species fills in the center of its web and also fills in a few spokes running from that center then you get what “looks like a spider.” But itʼs the orb-web architecture that came before everything else, and itʼs the human who is “seeing a spider” just like we humans also see faces in clouds.

Thereʼs various hypotheses put forth regarding why Trashline Orbweavers weave trash into their webs. One hypothesis is that it makes the web more visible and keeps other animals from walking into the web and destroying it. Another hypothesis (from an article in the Journal of Arachnology) is that because stabilimentum (the trashlines) reflect ultraviolet light similar to flowers, spiders incorporate them into webs to attract insects associated with flowers. The research concludes that trashline webs with stabilimentum attract more insects. On the other hand, a recent article in the journal published by the Arachnological Society of Japan reported no difference in the number of prey captured by cyclosa stabilimentum webs and cyclosa non-stabilimentum webs. Differences in research methodologies adopted by the two studies could partially account for different results.

Does a trashy blob in the center of an orb-web with a few thickened trashy strands running outward from the central blob constitute proof of anything metaphysical? Has that same spider been coaxed to make a second web and did it have the same number of “legs” as the first? Even without performing that experiment, the naturalist who discovered and filmed this spider has done us the favor of taking snapshots of nearby webs built presumably by the same genus and species of Amazonian spider but those webs donʼt show “eight-legs,” in fact none of his photos of nearby webs by that same type of spider show “eight-legs.” They just show a central blob and some thickened strands running from the blob. Here are the additional pics he took of nearby webs:

This last photo was taken by someone else. It is of a colony of Trashline Orbweavers of the same genus as the spider discovered by the naturalist, and these are all living close together. Loads of trashlines.

And here are a few more webs by other Trashline Orbweavers of the same genus:

I suspect that the most one can “prove” via comparing webs of different species of Trashline Weavers as well as comparing different Genera and Families of spider species and their webs and behaviors is that evolution is jury-rigged, using whatever it has in order to achieve whatever it can. And itʼs likely that itʼs our species with itʼs large pattern-seeking brain that “sees” a “spider” in a central mass of trashlined webbing with some extra-thickened spokes extending from the center of an orb shaped web.

Spider Joke of the Day

Preacher: God has designed for us an insect by which He reveals his infinite ingenuity and wisdom, a lowly insect, it shouts out that “God Exists!” from the steeples of every church in the land!

Church Matron: So whatʼs this ugly, dust and trash-collecting, poisonous, blood-sucking vermin doing in a nice clean house of God? SWAT!

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