The Spider Decoy’s Marvelous Marionette!

Amazing Animals (Part 2 of 7)

by Calvin Smith on April 19, 2021
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As we continue our series on amazing animals and how they demonstrate the truth of God’s Word, I want you to realize I understand not everyone appreciates all of God’s creatures. This makes sense, because not only do animals reflect the genius of God’s creation (as Job 12:7–9 says), but they can also reveal the truth of the fall in Genesis 3: the reality that we don’t live in the “very good” world God created but in the sin-cursed world where animals and people often invoke great fear. Take spiders, for example.

I Don’t Like Spiders!

There are certain people in this world that really don’t like spiders, and when I say really don’t like them, I mean REALLY don’t like them at all! Appeals to how harmless they are, how the old wives’ tale that the average person swallows eight spiders a year just isn’t true, and how beneficial they are because of how many flies they eat have zero effect on these folks. They’re in a class by themselves. Let’s just say that if all eight shoes fit, they should probably wear them. It’s called arachnophobia.

Perhaps you know someone like this. One of my dear sisters-in-law fits the profile perfectly. And I’m sure all of “spider-dom” has heard the dreaded tale of the day when she unleashed her wrath upon a lonely little fellow that intruded on her bath one afternoon, leaving her trapped in the tub with no way out. If spiders had campfire tales, this would be the story that would have all of those little legs shaking in their boots!

As my big brother tells it, he came to know about the incident upon his return home from work. Stepping into the bathroom to wash up for dinner, he noticed that behind the quickly flung shower curtain, the bathwater was still sitting there, and a curious film was floating upon it. Pulling the plastic sheet back all the way revealed a huge mountain of shaving cream in one corner, slowly oozing down the side with the abandoned tin bobbing in the water. And buried deep somewhere within eight ounces of Barbasol lay the sorry remains of an embalmed arachnid that never knew what hit him.

The Spider Decoy

Too bad for that little guy that he hadn’t been chatting with some faraway cousins beforehand, as he could perhaps have learned a neat trick that might have saved him. In 2012 (unbeknownst to each other at the time), two US biologists discovered two different species of spiders with truly amazing behavior and abilities. One was located in Peru in the Amazon Basin and the other 11,000 miles away in the Philippines.

To add to their astonishment, the researchers soon realized that not only did these spiders construct colossal decoy clones, but they purposefully and personally animated them as well. To add to the realism of their imitation spiders, it was found that the real spiders crouched beside them and shook their webs when predators came near, causing them to move around like monstrous marionettes. In doing so, they made their doppelganger creations appear to come to life!

The result was two-fold. Either the astonishingly realistic image of a “giant spider” provided a menacing warning that scared away creatures that might have dared to pick on the real, smaller spider, or it provided a seemingly big and juicy false target for predators that mistook the decoy for the real owner of the web. Would-be attackers either fled from “big brother” or wound up with a mouthful of mossy mulch for their efforts.

Not only is this behavior fascinatingly complex, but it’s unprecedented in the animal kingdom. To my knowledge, we have no other example of creatures creating decoys of themselves to escape predation. How on earth could a simple spider contain the capacity to carry this out?

Seems Natural to Me

Not surprisingly, most reports on the subject do not credit or glorify God for his incredible handiwork or mention the obvious intelligent design behind it. Instead, the evolutionary storytelling accompanying the reports describing the decoy spider typically downplay the truly stupefying phenomena on display in these creatures. For example, even though biologist and science educator Phil Torres said it was unlike anything he’d ever seen, saying, “It blew my mind.” He also said,

It seems like a really well evolved and very specialized behavior. . . .  Considering that spiders can already make really impressive geometric designs with their webs, it’s no surprise that they can take that leap to make an impressive design with debris and other things.1

So, because spiders can do mind-blowing things, it shouldn’t surprise us they can do even more astonishingly mind-blowing things as well. You see, even the ability to create the varied, intricate webs spiders make is incredibly difficult to explain from a naturalistic standpoint, but one could try to argue it involves many repetitive, recurring movements that somehow got ingrained into the DNA coding of spiders through random mutations over millennia. However, in terms of sophistication and complexity, making an exaggerated image of yourself and animating it under very specific circumstances far exceeds those parameters.

There are only two choices here: (1) Either spiders somehow have the cognitive and communicative ability to think this strategy through and somehow pass it on to others in their collective communities, or (2) they have deep, ingrained, coded genetic information that activates programs that allows them to accomplish these feats. Either way, where did those abilities come from: chance or design?

Are Spiders Thinking?

We must understand that if option 1 is correct and that these spiders have thought this through, then they are deliberately manipulating the world around them to a level that only human beings have ever been observed doing.

In order to create a decoy of itself, it would have to be self-aware and “know” it’s a spider in relation to other things and be able to discern the difference between itself and other spiders. It would also have to recognize that a duplicate of itself (which looked like a spider but actually wasn’t) might somehow protect it from predators it may encounter in the future and so would have to have an understanding of time and potential events.

It would have to understand that making a larger, moving spider would be somehow better for scaring predators or to be a decoy—and know to manipulate the dummy when predators were near.

Like a farmer setting up a scarecrow, it would have had to reason about past experiences to make conclusions about the future by using information in the present, all as to how to best look after its own interests. In effect, it would be thinking in the same way you or I do, which is why most scientists deny this option. As one researcher put it,

When it was first reported in late 2012, the story received a fair amount of attention . . . because of the “romanticized idea behind it,” that “people are thinking these spiders are so clever [that] they’re building these structures that look like larger spiders.

But it’s not like the spiders are “looking at another spider and designing it based on that–this design is just what has been selected for–in that way it’s ingrained into their DNA and which translates into their behavior,” he says. “Spiders that have these more spider-like-looking decoys are more successful than those who don’t. It’s not the spider itself, it’s evolution–that’s the amazing thing.”

“The spiders are dummies . . . but at the same time they are smart enough to make the decision to know what should and shouldn’t go into that structure.”2

Do you see the problems with the evolutionary musings here? The spiders aren’t “smart”: they’re dummies, but they are “smart enough” to know what to do and when to do it? It’s not the spider but evolution that’s amazing?

Well, it surely would be if it were true, but it isn’t. The fact is, we all know that even the most brilliant computer programmers and engineers on the planet could not create and house the micro-engineered programming needed to duplicate these creature’s activities.

Assigning Evolution to God’s Abilities

When you break it down, what evolutionists are arguing for is that purely naturalistic forces have generated incredibly complex programming in diminutive, “primitive” spiders that equal the decision-making ability of human beings—all with the simplistic explanation that some random spiders that supposedly made more spider-like looking clumps of trash in their webs somehow survived better. Easy peezy.

Ignoring the fact that other spiders survive just fine without these abilities (so why would they need them to evolve them to survive), just think of the faith it requires to believe that an initial random genetic mutation (a spelling mistake in DNA) somehow developed that specifically affected the behavior in a group of spiders that caused them to mindlessly gather and arrange clumps of debris in their web? What survival benefit would having dirt in their web have? (That’s one of the reasons spiders abandon webs and make new ones, as it causes them to fall apart more quickly.)

Even if we put aside other questions (like how these mutations somehow got activated and integrated into their behavioral programming) for the moment, why would we believe more mutations would cause them to arrange bits of debris more specifically like the multiple legs, head, and thorax of a spider? Why wouldn’t shapes like a predatory bird, snake, or lizard, etc. prove more effective and be “selected”?

Remember that all the while this supposedly happened, the spiders are not cognitively aware they are doing any of this. It is all just instinct like breathing or blinking etc. But this would eventually also somehow require mutations that cause them to shake their web as well as programming to only do it when predators are nearby (which requires if A, then B-type programming).

In the end, evolutionary ideas like these are not science: they are simply storytelling. No one saw it happen: you cannot perform an experiment to duplicate it, and there are absolutely no similar examples in nature of a comparable thing happening. And yet the idea of God creating is mocked more than anything else in academia today.

Time to Stand Up

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember to always stand on the authority of God’s Word and trust it from the very first verse. Belief in the almighty, all-powerful God of Scripture is so much more intellectually, spiritually, philosophically, and scientifically sound than any compromise with evolutionary musings could ever be. Remember:

All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:3)

If you’re tired of the continuous gas-lighting from secularists who claim to have the intellectual “high ground” when discussing our origins, stay tuned throughout the next several weeks as we show you even more incredible examples of God’s amazing animals and give you some practical questions you can ask those around you to help wake them out of the naturalistic stupor many have fallen into.

This week’s question: Why should we believe incredible abilities such as the spider decoy demonstrates could have developed by chance?

Footnotes

  1. Nadia Drake, “Spider that builds its own spider decoys discovered,” December 18, 2012, http://www.wired.com/2012/12/spider-building-spider/.
  2. Douglas Main, “What I Learned Hunting Decoy-Weaving Spiders in the Amazon,” Popular Science, June 16, 2014, https://www.popsci.com/article/science/what-i-learned-hunting-amazonian-spiders-weave-fake-spiders/.

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