Accordion Word at the Aquarium

Whale Shark at Georgia Aquarium

Whale Shark at the Georgia Aquarium (photo credit: Zac Wolf)

During a family visit to the Georgia Aquarium last weekend, for no particular reason I started wondering if they might have a clown triggerfish on the premises.  Clown triggerfish are part jaguar, part piranha, and part Peter Max—among the most colorful and striking of all animals.

Eventually I asked a docent in the Tropical Diver exhibit if there were any triggerfish around (leaving off the word ‘clown’ so as not to appear star-crossed with only the most beautiful fish).  He was very knowledgeable—probably a professor or teacher of marine biology just gazing at beautiful fish and waiting for someone to ask a question.  He led me around the exhibit, describing the three triggerfish they had (no clowns), where they normally hang out, their swimming patterns, and a whole host of interesting fish facts.  He said there was a triggerfish in the surf above our heads (go figure), and if we were patient the fish would eventually come into full view.  It did, he spotted it, and let me know right away so I could get a couple of pictures.  Then he said, “The evolution of their tails is really quite interesting.”

Tropical Diver Exhibit

Tropical Diver Exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium (photo credit:

I was caught a little off guard.  I wondered if this kind man was an atheist, a naturalist, a neo-Darwinist, or a proponent of scientism.  Could he appreciate how all those beautiful fish came to be?  I thought about saying something, but it was easier to just move on and enjoy the rest of the aquarium—sometimes we think too much.  But I thought about what might have been said the rest of the day.

As William Lane Craig and evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala point out, ‘evolution’ is an accordion word that can be expanded or contracted to mean things that are obviously true, or things that are highly debated.  From an apologetics viewpoint, we don’t have anything to fear in these discussions, but it takes work to keep up with developments in genetics and biology, and to understand just what someone is getting at when they use the word ‘evolution’.  Here is a podcast by Dr. Craig that sheds some light on the use of the word.

According to Dr. Craig—from the standpoint of an analytic philosopher—when someone brings up evolution it’s important to determine how far they are stretching their accordion.  Do they mean that:

  1. Present-day organisms are descended from organisms that lived earlier, with modifications;
  2. Biological complexities can be explained through genetic mutation and natural selection; or
  3. The reconstruction of the evolutionary tree of life shows all of the branches going back to some common primordial ancestor?

The first point is obvious and not objectionable to even the strictest creationist.  (Otherwise how would you explain diversity among races, “goldendoodles” from golden retrievers and poodles, etc.)  However the second and third points are the subject of much debate and contention, and are not accepted as ‘facts’ among all scientists.

Biochemist Dr. Fazale Rana has written extensively about evolution, and recent developments in genetics in particular.  His posts on evolution are available at the Today’s New Reasons To Believe blog.  Dr. Rana provides technically competent commentary on recent developments in the study of unitary pseudogenes (so-called “junk DNA”), intelligent design, and many other evolution topics.  As stated previously, it takes work to be a good apologist.  The good news is that science and truth favor apologetics.  If you’re not familiar with Reasons To Believe, they are an amazing group of scholars who probably do more to demonstrate the accord between faith and science than just about anybody.

If you prefer something more for the man in the street, I can recommend David Work’s Reasons for the Hope blog, as he is doing a great job with his current series on the topic of evolution.

Take a little time to woodshed on evolution, and by all means don’t get caught “off guard.”

Sea Dragons

Possibly the most intriguing and bizarre creatures at the Georgia Aquarium are the weedy sea dragons.  Pop the following video into high-definition (by clicking on the gear icon after starting the video) and see if you can conclude that all that beauty and complexity is the result of presumptions 2 and 3 above.  Could it better be explained as the intelligent design and joyful expression of a creator?  Enjoy!

About John Paine

This blog is topical and devotional--we post whatever interests us, whenever. If you want to follow in an orderly fashion, please see our Kaqexeß page. View all posts by John Paine

7 responses to “Accordion Word at the Aquarium

  • Virginia

    Oooh John – so glad you made it to the GA Aquarium! Dwight & I visited last yr & (9 hrs later) were so overwhelmed with God’s Heavenly paintbrushes so busy at work UNDER the water. What an amazing experience & what an AMAZING Creator!

    grace, peace & Colorful Fishies – Virginia : )


    • John Paine

      It was pretty amazing. You see photos like the one at the top and assume that someone put the image together in Photoshop. Then you get there and realize that’s what it really looks like. I wish we had nine hours. Definitely want to go back. Thanks!


  • Clarke Morledge

    Since you are on the subjects of accordion and evolution, perhaps the evolution of the accordion is in order:

    I just wonder if Dawn Linton is reading???



  • Clarke Morledge

    Thought I’d just try to sneak that one in there, John 🙂

    I have not made it through David Work’s series on evolution completely so far, but I would recommend it for anyone with some in-depth interest who is trying to work through Old Earth and Intelligent Design approaches having some skepticism about Darwin. I am not sure what to make of it yet, but I am relieved that David is somewhat cautious about proposing ID as a legitimate scientific theory. ID as related to a philosophy of science, yes, that’s helpful. But ID as a competitor to evolution on a practical science level in the classroom? I am hearing David say, “Not so fast…. but perhaps there is something here to work with since evolution at least appears to have some problems with respect to at least some of the data.” OK, I can probably go with that for the most part, I suppose.

    Too bad David’s more cautionary approach was not put forward in the infamous Dover, Pennsylvania trial regarding Intelligent Design (or “Intelligence Design” as one of school board members put it). Frankly, that embarrassing debacle at Dover put the whole ID movement back a good 20 years or so in my view. For that reason, I’d take pure Old Earth over ID any day.

    Here is my problem with all of this: except for spending some time with this in college, advanced biology remains somewhat elusive to me, and so I just wonder how much I am NOT being told — perhaps on both sides.

    Here is a case in point. Last week, I went to a seminar done by a local church at the College of William and Mary where Terry Mortenson, an academic with Answers in Genesis came to address the topic “Was Darwin Right?” Answers in Genesis is not simply about trying to knock Darwin. They want to go after the whole “Old Earth” thing, too.

    Sure enough, Mortenson gave a very polished, articulate and apparently knowledgeable presentation advocating a Young Earth view. Of course, there was but one problem. I knew a little too much. For example, he gave a now-standard Young Earth argument that Argon radiometric dating is flawed since there were some rocks at Mount Saint Helens that when tested reveal a date in millions of years when in fact the volcano erupted in 1980. The rocks were only 33 years old — not millions like the scientists said. There you go…. Young Earth is right. Sounds impressive, right?

    Unfortunately, Mortenson neglected to say that the lab where the rock sample was tested explicitly warned that Argon radiometric dating is completely unreliable for samples less than two million years old. You would think that Answers in Genesis might note something significant like that, but apparently it does not fit in with their argument.

    But I am still learning about the particulars with the Old Earth approach in contrast with what I know of Evolutionary Creationism. I’m not far enough along to make any respectable evaluation.

    This has given me a lot to think about….



    • John Paine

      David Work’s series is very helpful for lots of reasons. As you noted, the scientific discussions behind these debates can be very jargon-filled, and many of them start way past the middle. David and I come from the same philosophical and theological bents, and I appreciate the integrity he brings to the topic. Two of his objections to Darwinism (neo- or otherwise) are that evolution has become a ‘religion’ stuck in the 19th century, and that proponents turn a blind eye to a mountain of contradictory evidence.

      It is very similar to Terry Mortenson’s approach, in that you throw the observable data out the window, and cherry pick a few obscure pieces to make an overarching argument that really isn’t supportable at all. The Dual Revelation video by Reasons To Believe has some very interesting statements about what we can and should do when our interpretations and understanding don’t line up with the facts (see Walter Kaiser’s comments in the video). When I first watched that video it gave me goosebumps. Science and Faith are in accord. That opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. Welcome to Old Earth Creationism and the joy of Psalm 19 and Romans 1, scientific apologetics and 1 Peter 3:15, and the assurance that our faith is grounded in reality. We can explore any topic with confidence and an open mind.

      David Work’s examples and arguments are ponderous indeed. We are asked by Darwinists to accept macroevolution (e.g. that fish begat amphibians that begat land animals and so on), yet in the 150 years since the theory was first proposed no scientific data has been found to support it. Fossil records demostrate stasis in straigraphy, not evolution. Natural selection cannot be planned (if it was the result of planning, there goes the theory of evolution). Only two percent of mutations are beneficial to an organism, and 71 percent are lethal or non-lethal deleterious!

      Meanwhile, objective science disproves the idea of junk DNA. (See Fazale Rana’s posts.) As William Lane Craig points out, science is on the side of the creationists, and Darwinists are clinging to their religion with less objectivity.

      God is awesome. But then standing in front of an aquarium can lead even the simplest mind to that conclusion.


  • dwwork


    Great post and thanks for the plug.

    Clarke, I am working toward ID in later posts but first wanted to lay some ground work on evolution. Also, there are at least two atheists that are reading my blog and I first wanted to challenge them to just maybe start thinking that evolution is not as sound as many believe. I want to challenge evolution with what I hope are sound arguments before I start on what I believe is the best explanation on how life came to be on earth and how the complexity came to be.

    As always,have a blessed day,



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