Insectman Home
Contact Us
My Testimony
Our Links
Get Saved
Exodus Mandate
The Lie: Evolution


Evolutionists Need a "Bomb" Shelter
by Karl Priest revised 1-6-09 (revised 1-18-09)

Also see The Gish Goof.
In the Spring of 2002 a very local evolutionist (retired chemical engineer) challenged me with the claim creationists, Dr. Duane Gish in particular, have the facts wrong about the combination of chemicals blowing up the bombardier beetle when they are combined.  He said that Dr. Gish had been corrected and refused to change his statements.

This is a summary of my discussion with the skeptic.  (Note: The emails are not necessarily in chronological order.)

Karl, (Note:  No longer available--Karl)
This is a creationist site with an extract from Gish’s 1993 book, Creation Scientists Answer their Critics. Gish admits using the ‘explosive’ description in 1977. He also states that a 1981 article in a creation magazine acknowledged that the use of ‘explosive’ was an error due to translation.

Carl, (sic)
Read the last long paragraph taken from Gish’s 1993 book.  It starts, "Even if the mixture of hydroquinones and hydrogen peroxide is not explosive, a mixture of these two chemicals in the presence of the two enzymes in a confined space is explosive."
Gish is sticking with his statement that the chemicals are explosive.  The change is that now they do not explode until the enzymes are added.

Now go back and read the extract from the 1983 book by Huse.  The fact which rules out trial and error evolution is that all the beetles which tried this defense would blow themselves up. Explosion and the presumed death of all beetles attempting this strategy is the reason this example is so popular with creationists.

Earlier in the 1993 extract, Gish writes,
"The chemical reaction generates sufficient heat to raise the temperature of the mixture to 212ºF, and the excess oxygen produced provides the high pressure, and valves in the ends of the combustion tubes are opened at the appropriate time." Gish is almost correct in this version, but note that there is no explosion. Formation of oxygen from hydrogen peroxide will raise the pressure in any closed container.  It is like a soft-drink bottle, but because oxygen is much less soluble than carbon dioxide, much less dissolved oxygen is required to raise the pressure.
Increased temperature, due to the heat of reaction, also raises pressure.  Oxygen solubility decreases as the temperature increases.  Also, the vapor pressure of water increases.  The total pressure is the vapor pressure due to water and the partial pressure due to oxygen dissolved in the water.

The mention of 212ºF as the temperature of the water in the spray is a real giveaway that Gish, (or whoever researches his material) does not understand what is going on.  If water is heated to 212ºF without the formation of any oxygen, the water will begin to boil.  If it is in a partially closed container, a mixture of steam and boiling water will spurt out (depending on where the opening is in relation to the water level).  If there is a valve which does not open until the pressure is above atmospheric, then the initial temperature and pressure will be higher and the spurt will have higher velocity.

When oxygen is formed, the pressure of the water-oxygen mixture will reach atmospheric pressure at a temperature below 212ºF.

In all cases, as droplets of water are expelled into the atmosphere, there will be rapid evaporation of water and the droplet temperatures will be substantially below boiling point before they hit any predator.

Incidentally, is there any evidence for a valve at the outlet of the beetles discharge tubes?  I think the beetle would function quite well if the discharge tubes were simply small diameter, so that the oxygen-water mixture forced out had to move relatively rapidly.  This removes one more of the irreducibly complex components of the bombardier example.  

The principle would then be like the pulse-jet engines used on the German V-2 rockets in the second war.  The combustion chamber had an intake valve but no outlet valve, only a nozzle which converged to a small outlet area. When the combustion chamber contains air, fuel is injected and ignited.  Combustion raises the temperature and pressure and closes the inlet valve so that the hot gases are forced through the exhaust nozzle.  When most of the exhaust gas has been discharged, pressure becomes low enough that the inlet valve reopens, allowing air to fill the combustion chamber and the cycle is repeated.


In three other emails the skeptic said the following to support his thesis that the secretions of other insects support the evolution of the bombardier.

1. I asked Keith to give me a specific example of where Dr. Gish was incorrect.

and follow the other links from there.

I do not have any of Gish's publications.  If you do, you should be able to find his mistakes.
There is parhaps (sic) a little lattitude (sic) for writers and preachers exagerating (sic) for effect, but any discussion of bombardies (sic) beetles which does not mention or discuss the range of temperature and severity of the 'explosion' effect is just propaganda.

If you think Gish's explosive action is what the intelligent designer had in mind, there were a lot of trial designs which were much less effective.  Just what evolution would predict.
Chemical Secretions of the Suborder Adephaga (Coleoptera).htm  (Note:  No longer available--Karl)

2.  Keith sent this entire attack article.

Rocket bug blasts the fundamentalists

The bombardier beetle is so extraordinary that it must have been made by God, says the US Bible belt. But Peter Forbes begs to differ

Thursday October 26, 2000

There must be something about beetles and God: the biologist J.B.S. Haldane was once asked by a bishop what the living world could tell us about the Creator. He replied that it demonstrated "an inordinate fondness for beetles".

Twenty five per cent of all known species of animal life are beetles - about 350,000 species. The connection developed a new twist recently with creationists in America claiming that the amazingly precise engineering of the bombardier beetle could not possibly have evolved, ergo God made it.

We have been here before of course. The classic argument - what use is an eye that doesn't yet work properly because it hasn't fully evolved? - was demolished by Richard Dawkins. Many creatures cannot see well, spiders for example. But an ability to tell light from dark may be all a creature needs. Half an eye is not useless. It confers an enormous advantage over sightlessness.

So what is it about the bombardier that has resurrected the argument and got the creationists so excited?

All beetles, as bombardier expert Thomas Eisner puts it, have a problem: when on the ground their wings are furled beneath the wing covers, the elytra. To unfurl them takes time and the beetle is vulnerable to attack at this point. Some beetles, indeed, don't fly at all. To counter this weakness, beetles have developed rapid reaction defensive mechanisms of which the bombardier's is the most famous.

Bombardier beetles direct a precisely aimed spray of irritant benzoquinones at 100C at attackers. The spray is not continuous but is delivered in pulses of 500 to 1,000 per second. The mechanism, elucidated over 40 years by Eisner and his co-workers, is a miracle of technical exactitude and bears an uncanny resemblance to the pulse-jet that powered the German V1 rocket of the second world war.

Engineers are engaged in a scramble to produce engineering solutions that mimic natural processes (a discipline known as biomimetics) but the bombardier is a case of retro-biomimesis or parallel evolution because the bombardier was quite unknown to the German rocket engineers.

The bombardier's fuel and reaction vessel are remarkably rocket like. The propellant is hydrogen peroxide, well known as a rocket fuel, and, prior to the explosive burst is kept with hydroquinones (a relatively benign precursor of the irritant benzoquinones) in a sac or "fuel tank". Another smaller tank has enzymes which release oxygen from the peroxide: this oxidises the hydroquinone to benzoquinone and produces a hot reaction with explosive release of oxygen gas, thus propelling the benzoquinones out of the chamber.

The mechanism has been studied in great detail by high-speed cinematography (4,000 frames per second), by audio (the explosion produces an audible pop), and chemical analysis of the spray. The beetle aims the spray in response to a threat by swivelling (gimballing is the rocketeer's term) its nozzle. It has a wide range of angles and photographs of the spray being ejected directly behind the beetle look like a rocket plane with a slightly unusual six-legged undercarriage.

Such an elaborate mechanism is bound to excite speculation about its origin. How in evolution could a rudimentary form of a rocket motor exist, something that was not yet a rocket motor? In fact, the natural world is replete with examples of organs taking on a secondary function. This is the way of evolution: to achieve a new function it makes use of something already to hand. Bones in our own middle ear derive from the jawbone of a remote mammalian ancestor.

But for creationists the bombardier is an apparent godsend. If you type "bombardier beetle" into a search engine, most of the pages that come up relate to the creationists' campaign. You can vote online as to whether or not the bombardier is "proof that evolution may be false" (at the time of writing the site is registering NO: 57.33%; YES 42.67%: cast your vote on DEBATES/creation_bombardier_ beetle.HTM?survey)

Lay people have always been sceptical of evolution's account of the origin of complex organs. What to a biologist is perfectly reasonable seems fantastic to the untrained. As Lewis Wolpert always points out, science is not simply a more rigorous form of common sense. Eisner's latest paper* offers a clue as to how the bombardier's mechanism may have evolved. As with most examples of hi-tech in nature, not all bombardiers have such a sophisticated apparatus.

There are two lines of bombardiers, the brachinoid and the paussoid, and one of the paussoids, Metrius contractus doesn't eject a spray. It merely emits a benzoquinone froth which covers its body and makes intruders keep their distance. Metrius contractus doesn't fly at all so it needs to remain repulsive for long enough to make its attackers turn to a likelier target. Obviously this has worked for M. contractus because the creature is still with us, but it is quite plainly less than half a rocket engine.

Another pointer to the evolution of the bombardier is that the reaction controls itself, there is very little nervous activity by the beetle itself. One can imagine an early bombardier like M. contractus which produced froth on the outside of its body throwing up a mutant in which the froth-making machinery became enclosed in a body cavity. The resulting explosion would either have destroyed the beetle or been a very much more effective deterrent.

Once the internal reaction chamber had become established the refinements would have followed. The evolutionary lineage of bombardier beetles is not clear and at present Metrius contratus is not thought to be in the same line of descent as the spraying bombardiers. But the existence of a primitive version of this natural rocket engine is highly suggestive evidence that half-a-rocket-engine has existed and could then evolve into the full Monty.

In fact, the existence of all those beetles and their amazing technology isn't evidence for God and his fondness at all. The explanation is that the beetle niche, with that vulnerability when challenged on the ground, has spawned great inventiveness in acquiring counter-measures.

The bombardier's darts might zap its predators effectively, but they are not going to bring down the edifice of evolutionary theory.

* Journal of Experimental Biology, 203, 1265-1275 (2000)

3.  Keith sent a link to the following article of which I include an excerpt.

Chemical Secretions of the Suborder Adephaga (Coleoptera)

Kelly B. Miller
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado 80523


The coleopteran suborder Adephaga contains eight families, all of which secrete a variety of glandular substances.  All families possess paired pygidial glands located postero-dorsally in the abdomen.  These glands open onto the eighth abdominal tergum.  Additionally, the families Dytiscidae and Hygrobiidae possess paired prothoracic glands.  The prothoracic glands of Dytiscidae secrete a variety of steroids, some of which are identical to typical vertebrate steroids, a phenomenon unique among Arthropoda.  The most widespread dytiscid steroid is deoxycorticosterone.  Pygidial glands are relatively uniform in structure throughout the suborder but vary in chemical constituents.  Dytiscidae, Gyrinidae and Carabidae are the families most studied.  Gyrinids produce unique norsesquiterpenes.  These are gyrinidal, isogyrinidal, gyrinidone and gyrinidione.  The most common pygidial gland compounds in Dytiscidae are aromatic aldehydes (e.g. p-hydroxybenzaldehyde), esters (e.g. methyl p-hydroxybenzoate) and acids (e.g. benzoic acid).  Dytiscids also produce many less widespread and/or more rare compounds.  Carabids also produce a diverse array of pygidial chemicals.  These are generally hydrocarbons, aliphatic ketones, saturated esters, formic acid, higher saturated acids, unsaturated aliphatic acids, phenols, aromatic aldehydes or quinones.  The most characteristic compounds are carboxylic acids, particularly formic acid, methacrylic acid and
tiglic acid.  Among the more interesting compounds produced by carabids are 1,4 quinones and hydroquinones ejected explosively by members of Brachinini. Other adephagan families are not as well known chemically.  All Adephaga deliver compounds in one of three ways depending on taxon.  These are

1) oozing,
2) spraying and
3) crepitation.

While many compounds have unknown functions, it is suspected that most compounds have one or more of six possible functions,

1) defense against vertebrate predators,
2) facilitation of penetration of defense compounds into predator integuments,
3) antimicrobial and antifungal (especially in Hydradephaga),
4) increasing wetability of the integument (Hydradephaga),
5) as alarm substances,
6) as a propellant (Gyrinidae), and
7) conditioning of plant tissues associated with oviposition.

Chemotaxonomy has been studied with Adephagan families with inconclusive results, mainly because of limited data.  Future research needs include identification of additional compounds, determination of function of compounds and application of this information to systematic, behavioral and ecological problems.


The suborder Adephaga represents a taxonomically well-defined group of beetles which
exhibit a wide variety of chemical secretions and associated behaviors and ecological interactions.  Although a great deal of information on adephagan chemistry is available, no publications thoroughly address the entire suborder. 

Apart from simply the interesting nature of the chemistry of these beetles, an understanding of the components of their glands could provide insight into relationships and evolutionary history of families within the group.  The taxonomy and systematics of adephagan families is not yet well resolved.

During this time I received the following response from the Institute for Creation Research.  Dr. Gish was out of the country and when he returned he underwent surgery and could not respond promptly personally.

Dear Mr. Priest,

Thank you for again contacting the Institute for Creation Research. I have the “chemicals in the beetle’ question for which you have sought an answer to the following question(s):

Q    1:  Can you provide a layman’s summary of the correct way to describe the chemical reaction within the beetle and how it points to design?

A    1:   The source used for explaining “Bomby the Bombardier Beetle” was written by Hazel May Rue and is available for purchase from the ICR web-site at ‘Carabids of the Brachinus Genus’ contain two little exhaust valves on their tail end. They kill many insects that eat crops and the European Calosoma beetle was actually imported to this country to help control the gypsy moth. They have the unique ability to fire a poison gas out of their “cannons” in rapid rounds of more than one thousand times without losing ‘fire  power.’ The poison stuns and causes enemies such as tiger beetles, ants, and frogs to back away and some appear to become unconsious for a two or three hours. The female bombardier beetles have a slightly different poison gas that knocks out unwelcome males.

The poison is made from amino acids used to build proteins. More specifically, the ‘tail pipes’ correspond to two glands in the beetle’s tail end. One makes ‘hydroquinone’ and the other makes ‘hydrogen peroxide.’ These go together in a collecting room (p. 23). A second room (firing chamber) contains a mixture of from 40 % to 60 % solution made of ‘catalase’ and ‘peroxidase.’ This solution comes out of the walls of the room when the muscle shoots the first two liquids out through a ‘firing chamber.’ It keeps right on going and explodes outside of their tail pipes. The spray is called Quinone and the design is so effective, no beetle has ever died from an ‘internal explosion.’

The spray produces an explosion or loud bang, flash of light, and a cloud of smoke-like vapor at the same time. It is also quite hot, about 212 degrees fahrenheit (100 degrees celcius). The design inference is readily apparent!

Q    2:  Can you provide your (Dr. Gish) side of the story regarding an accusation by an unknown agnostic scientist made (to me) that creationists get their facts wrong about the combination of chemicals “blowing up the beetle” when they are combined, and that when corrected you refused to change your statements?
A    2:   No beetles have been known to blow themselves up, as previously noted. If your notes from the agnostic scientist on the chemicals used and the process described above differs, please let me know. I would need the name of the debator (and the location or date) who had presented against Dr. Gish in order to answer your question further. Dr. Gish is a man of integrity and honesty. This means that if he made a mistake he would admit it. When such accusations are made by a scientist without the specifics needed to provide verification it becomes slander and unworthy of further inquiry.

I received no response from the following query sent to Dr. Thomas Eisner:

Dear Dr. Eisner:

      Please answer a couple of questions.

1.  In a 1999 Reuters article you and Mr. Aneshansley are quoted as saying, "There is the vexing problem of how the beetle, which inevitably drenches itself when discharging, withstands the heat and irritancy of its own spray."

      Have an answer to this question been found?

2.  Creationists are accused of getting the facts wrong concerning the combination of chemicals and when this combination would become explosive.  What, is layman terms as much as possible, is the correct description of when the separate chemicals become explosive?

      Thank you.

Finally, in December, Dr. Gish sent me a personal letter in which he said:

"I am enclosing a copy of pages 101-105 of my book, Creation Scientists Answer their Critics,  in which I discuss in detail my response to claims by evolutionists.  No evolutionist  has ever described any evidence that offers a scientific explanation how an ordinary beetle could have evolved into a bombardier beetle.  Someone may have suggested a scenario which constitutes nothing more than a 'just so' story."

In that book Dr. Gish thoroughly handled (1993) the challenge proposed by the local skeptic.  To me, this situation is like when Darwin put a beetle in his mouth and it sprayed him.  Darwin did not think of the miracle he had just experienced.  The local skeptic continued to insist that evolutionists' "could-have-happened" stories are sufficient to explain the amazing complexity of the bombardier beetle.  I continue to say that the bombardier beetle is equivalent to a hydrogen bomb for evolutionism.