F Rosa Rubicondior: The Curious Case of Giant Pacific Tube Worms

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Curious Case of Giant Pacific Tube Worms

The giant tubeworm, Riftia pachyptila Photo: Monika Bright, University of Vienna, Austria.
The Giant Pacific Tube Worm (Riftia pachyptila) were discovered in the late 1970s in the eastern Pacific Ocean at depths of around 8000 feet. It is an ‘extremophile’, living as it does around the rim of volcanic hydrothermal vents - so-called ‘black smokers’ because of the colour of the sulphur-rich water welling up from them. The temperatures can reach 360 degrees Celsius and the pressure at that depth is around 150 times that at sea level – enough to crush an ordinary submarine hull.

No sunlight reaches these depths, so, unlike normal ecosystems which depend on sunlight as the source of energy, the entire system depends on bacteria which manufacture nutrients from the chemicals welling up from the vents. The energy source is heat and hydrogen sulphide. Hydrogen sulphide is highly toxic in a normal environment.

Giant tubeworms dominate the landscape around these hydrothermal vents and have a unique symbiotic relationship with bacteria which live within their bodies and provide them with all their nutrients. The adult tube worms have no mouth parts or digestive tract at all as these atrophy once the lava have their population of bacteria in place.

In return for feeding the worms, the bacteria are supplied with a steady stream of nutrients by the tube worms’ feather-like plumes which contain large amounts of haemoglobin to assist with this process. The same organs deal with the waste products.

Now, according to the Bible, God destroyed ‘every living substance’ on earth (Genesis 7:23), save only some chosen specimens of each species which were kept on a boat for some fourteen months complete with all the food they would need. How many of each bacteria and tube worm were on the boat is not clear and depends on whether they were clean (seven) or unclean (two).

Maybe they were both clean or both unclean so the numbers matched. If the tube worms had been clean and the bacteria unclean then the seven worms would have had to make do with two bacteria between them.

Another problem is that they are hermaphrodite, something the author of Genesis doesn't seem to know about, which is a bit strange for an omniscient creator of everything, but I'll let that pass...

Now, the questions are:
  1. How did Noah collect the Giant Pacific Tube Worms and ensure they only had the specified number of bacteria each?
  2. How did he maintain the right temperature, pressure and supply of nutrients whilst bringing then to the boat?
  3. How did he recreate the hydrothermal vent conditions on the boat and maintain the supply of hot, pressurised, highly toxic hydrogen sulphide for over a year?
  4. How did each tube worm manage to live with just one (or maybe 3.5) bacteria to supply all it's metabolic needs when they normally have millions of them?
  5. How did Noah return the tube worms back to the eastern Pacific once they got off the boat?

Strangely, none of this is mentioned in the Bible and the only building material available to Noah would seem to be wood, but I'm sure a Creationist can explain these things to me.

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  1. It's magic, I ain't gotta explain shit.

  2. Let me offer two possible "excuses":

    a) God is almighty and just made things happen as required (aka, God the miracle maker - after all he did all these other miraculous stuff)


    b) The Bible is not to be interpreted literally (or *that* literally)


    c) The Bible would have included that sort of description, but the people given the original text were not sophisticated enough to get it right/at all so it was omitted. Because God is almighty /see a), above/ it was easy/didn't really matter.

    Whether one or both are used depends on the particular strain of religionista you talk to.

    But I suspect you won't really get a chance to discuss this with a true creationist as they'd have stopped listening before any real information, let a lone question can be passed.

  3. Of course! God diddit!
    Wonderful how that simple answer saves an awful lot of thinking and always works for every question isn't it. :-)

  4. I thought it was Neptune that saved them!

    Oh wait; that's another set of bronze age fairy tales. My mistake ;)

  5. Like the quote from House I just saw on Reddit says. "You can't use logic in an argument against a religious person. If you could, there would BE no religious people..."

  6. God created new creatures and plant life after the waters receded obviously!...

  7. Why would Noah need to save sea creatures from a flood? There was no talk of him saving fish either, was there? Presumably, underwater animals were chill during the whole flood thing.

    1. Unfortunately, the Bible slams that escape hatch shut by saying every living substance outside the Ark was destroyed (Genesis 7:23).

      I blame poor editorial control.

    2. As you yourself have suggested, this is likely the mistaken belief that in order to "live" you need to breathe.

      I applaud all the various ways you have refuted the literal interpretation of Noah's Ark. You have given a hundred contradictions and impossibilities where for logical reasons one should do nicely.

      But the inconsistencies in the story interfere as much with a logical refutation as they do with believing the tale in some ways. Because while you can point to the phrase "all life" someone else can point to "breathe through their nostrils". I think relying on the existence of marine animals to prove the unlikelihood of a globally devastating flood is taking the argument down to an incredibly fine level of resolution. The only folks swayed by such interrogation would be those who would already be swayed by the sheer number of mammals living on that boat.

      The fact that the story leaves out some undersea critters seems a little like reporting that the bank robbers illegally parked the getaway car. It may be true, but it seems very tangential to the central theme.

      But I find your doggedness, dare I say obsession, with shredding any literal interpretation of the bible fascinating. Your blog is a chefs kitchen of biblical invalidation.

    3. I love it when they have to highlight the embarrassing contradictions in the Bible in order to defend its literal inerrancy. :-)

    4. It is the language of prophecy. Be vague and say contradictory things, so you can always find the wording that was right, or could be right, or would be right if not for all of the other contradictory things.

      And of course you are right with a point you have made often. Where they are specific, the authors of the bible reveal a level of awareness of the world less consistent with an omnipotent being and more in tune with the world of a primitive sheep herder. If there really were a heaven there would be some 4000 year old sheep herder up there complaining, "Guys, they were just stories we told around the campfire! Are you people really that stupid?"


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