Humans are, in many ways, just “Fish out of Water.”

There’s a great article over at RichardDawkins.net about some of the history of our development through evolution. It explains how some of the common conditions and ailments we suffer from are the results of humans being descended from other life forms:

‘Fish out of water: Your Inner Fish’ by Neil Shubin – RichardDawkins.net

Our humanity comes at a cost. For the exceptional combination of things we do—talk, think, grasp, and walk on two legs—we pay a price.

This is an inevitable result of the tree of life inside us. Imagine trying to jerry-rig a Volkswagen Beetle to travel at speeds of 150 miles per hour. In 1933 Adolf Hitler commissioned Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to develop a cheap car that could get 40 miles per gallon of gas and provide a reliable form of transportation for the average German family. The result was the VW Beetle. This history, Hitler’s plan, places constraints on the ways we can modify the Beetle today; the engineering can be tweaked only so far before major problems arise and the car reaches its limit.

In many ways, we humans are the fish equivalent of a hot-rod Beetle. Take the body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of its fingers—and you have a recipe for problems. We can dress up a fish only so much without paying a price. In a perfectly designed world—one with no history—we would not have to suffer everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.

Nowhere is this history more visible than in the detours, twists, and turns of our arteries, nerves, and veins. Follow some nerves and you’ll find that they make strange loops around other organs, apparently going in one direction only to twist and end up in an unexpected place. The detours are fascinating products of our past that, as we’ll see, often create problems—hiccups and hernias, for example. And this is only one way our past comes back to plague us.

It’s a good read and I encourage you to go read it in full. It’s this sort of breadth of knowledge that the Theory of Evolution has provided us that just shoots holes in the so-called Intelligent Design alternative explanation. An all-powerful, all-knowing God would’ve done a much better job of designing humans than what we see in ourselves. Either that or he’s not as all-knowing as he likes to think he is.

9 thoughts on “Humans are, in many ways, just “Fish out of Water.”

  1. I generally liked the book and found it very interesting, however, I found the
    following passage deeply troubling on moral grounds:

    Imagine trying to jerry-rig a Volkswagen Beetle to travel at speeds of 150
    miles per hour. In 1933 Adolf Hitler commissioned Dr. Ferdinand Porsche to
    develop a cheap car that could get 40 miles per gallon of gas and provide a
    reliable form of transportation for the average German family. The result was
    the VW Beetle. This history, Hitler’s plan, places constraints on the ways
    we can modify the Beetle today; the engineering can be tweaked only so far
    before major problems arise and the car reaches its limit.

    In many ways, we humans are the fish equivalent of a hot-rod Beetle. Take the
    body plan of a fish, dress it up to be a mammal, then tweak and twist that
    mammal until it walks on two legs, talks, thinks, and has superfine control of
    its fingers and you have a recipe for problems. We can dress up a fish only so
    much without paying a price. In a perfectly designed world, one with no history,
    we would not have to suffer everything from hemorrhoids to cancer.

    Nowhere is this history more visible than in the detours, twists, and turns of
    our arteries, nerves, and veins. Follow some nerves and you will find that they
    make strange loops around other organs, apparently going in one direction only
    to twist and end up in an unexpected place. The detours are fascinating products
    of our past that, as we will see, often create problems, hiccups and hernias,
    for example. And this is only one way our past comes back to plague us.
    Our deep history was spent, at different times, in ancient oceans, small
    streams, and savannahs, not office buildings, ski slopes, and tennis courts. We
    were not designed to live past the age of 80, sit on our keisters for ten hours
    a day, and eat Hostess Twinkies, nor were we designed to play football. This
    disconnect between our past and our human present means that our bodies fall
    apart in certain predictable ways.
    Virtually every illness we suffer has some historical component. The examples
    that follow reflect how different branches of the tree of life inside us from
    ancient humans, to amphibians and fish, and finally to microbes come back to
    pester us today. Each of these examples show that we were not designed
    rationally but are products of a convoluted history.
    __________
    The author has apparently indicated that he was not intending to make an
    analogy with the very dark implication that Hitler is to Porsche is to VW Bug is
    to Hot Rod VW Bug as the Creator (or Designer) is to nature is to primordial
    fish is to human beings; however, the analogy comes in an argument against
    design which is clearly an argument against belief in a Designer and by
    implication ID and Creationism.
    One reader of the text, not me, has suggested there is a plausible attack on
    those who believe in a Designer or Creator as it would seem that they are as
    blind as Hitler’s followers. I take this suggestion very seriously.
    There is also nothing in the text that mitigates the use of the analogy, that
    is, Shubin expresses no regret in the text that Hitler, the most infamous person
    in history, is the designer and first cause of the particular technological
    example which he chose as an analogy for primordial life or the primordial fish.
    There is in the text not so much as an alas.
    For good maesure I will add that the analogy comes in a chapter with the title:
    The Meaning of It All, which clearly suggests that the author is pointing to or
    thinking of higher things in this particular chapter.
    I do not think the analogy is an accident and I deem it a very dark and nasty.

    Timothy E. Kennelly

  2. It’s a good example of why authors tempted to use any bit of Nazi history in an analogy should search a bit longer.  Because you obviously found it (as would many readers) to be a massive distraction, at best.  I think you’re overthinking what was a bad choice of analogies; I would probably have used the Model-T for that reason. Relatively primitive car, often souped up as a hotrod, but not associated (at least not directly) with a genocidal dictator.

    I am currently reading Dawkins’ Climbing Mount Improbable which covers this ground from a different angle.  Dawkins uses many good examples of earlier adaptations on an evolutionary timeline becoming sub-optimal phenotypes in later descendants.  Evolution doesn’t do radical redesigns very well within a lineage.

  3. I do not think I am overthinking the analogy, but many, such as you, have made such comments. I am inclined to the opinion that other are simply not thinkimg about the implications of the analogy. Regarding Shubin, I honestly do not see how one can be so indifferent to reference to Hitler, or how one uses an analogy with Hitler in it without giving any thought to what Hitler is analogous to.

    Timothy E. Kennelly

  4. Why do the Creationists continually bring up Hitler as a example of an atheist? (Erroneously so, of course) Because of his shock value in an argument. Another really good read on this evolution subject, from a different angle: “Survival of the Sickest,” by Dr. Sharon Moalem. The book cover states: “A medical maverick discovers why we need disease.”

  5. Why do they keep coming up with erroneous arguments? Since they are wrong, all their arguments are erroneous by definition.

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