Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giraffefish and Other Nonsense

I love this painting.  It was made by one of my best friends, and it has inspired several debates about the nature of the universe and the existence of unknown or impossible creatures (such as a giraffe fish).  During one of these debates I found myself arguing the position that even though there is no tangible proof that giraffe fish exist, the possibility of their existence should not be ruled out on that basis alone.  My friend on the other hand, argued that since there is no proof of the existence of giraffe fish, it is foolish to even consider the possibility of the existence of such a creature.  While I was focused on the immensity of the ocean and the likelihood that there are numerous undiscovered species potentially living on our planet, my friend was debating the larger social question of the existence of God.  

Yes, in this case the fictitious character of the giraffe fish plays God.  

I suppose this issue brings up and interesting difference between atheism and agnosticism.  My friend is an atheist, or at least when we were discussing this topic several years ago she was. (I think she may have joined my agnostic/ indecisive worldview at this point, but that is an entirely different discussion.)  She had made up her mind that God did not exist and chastised me for being gullible/ naive enough to entertain the possibility of any form of supernatural deity.  In response I would argue that her strong belief in atheism is equally problematic since the main evidence she uses to argue against the existence of the divine is the failure of religion to prove its existence.

I consider myself agnostic.  I honestly have no idea whether or not there are supernatural forces existing in the world.  Sometimes I find this problematic.  While I have no evidence that there is any type of deity influencing the universe, I have equally little evidence to prove that one does not exist.  In this case, atheists and religious groups alike are basing their views on a belief system, or faith, as neither can provide evidence to substantiate their claims.  One key phrase that I have heard repeatedly in my studies or biology and anthropology is the adage "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."  This phrase basically sums up my reasons for being agnostic.  The lack of evidence from either side prevents an adequate basis for drawing an informed conclusion on the topic.  While the fundamental inconsistencies in accepted modern religions lead me to reject any specific doctrine, I realize that humans created religions and humans are fallible.  Yet, it is possible that a deity beyond human comprehension exists.  Until I can gather further evidence on god's existence or lack there of, I have chosen to accept the unknowability or the universe and remain my indecisive self.

Today I was thinking about whether it would be possible for a giraffe fish to evolve through the process of natural selection.  I realize "fish" is probably and inappropriate term to use, as I expect that the proposed organism would be a mammal, but technically all tetrapods are evolutionary descendants of fish.  More on that another time.

Anyway, upon considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of giraffe features in an aquatic environment the prospects aren't great.  First of all, the elongated thin neck of a giraffe would not be streamlined or effective in an aquatic environment, especially given a more massive torso.  Secondly, the general consensus in the scientific field is that marine mammals evolved from a wolf-like ancestor that returned to an aquatic environment.  Thus, an aquatic giraffe would probably represent a parallel evolutionary trajectory of an herbivorous quadruped that returned to the water and adapted to the conditions by developing fins (ect.). While parallelism are common in mammalian evolutionary history, my friend had a point when she noted that an aquatic giraffe-like creature would probably have difficulty remaining unnoticed by humans since it would need to breath oxygen, and would need to be fairly large to maintain mammalian metabolic functions in an aquatic environment.  

That being said, I challenge anyone to completely disprove the possibility of the existence of a giraffe fish.

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