The Scientific Indian

Winner of the Unintelligent Design Contest

Ladies and gentlemen! The Flounder!

If you look closely, the flounder fish has a rather remarkable head. There’s something amiss with the placement of its right eye and the way its mouth opens. Its as if it was a normal fish like, say the discus fish, that lived a normal life and one day some crazy demented person came along and said, “So you are a normal fish, eh? Let’s see. I’ll drop you on the sea floor and make you move about on your sides flat on the floor. That eye you are now dragging in the mud, let me twist your head around to bring it to the same side as the eye facing the sky. Of course, it means that your mouth opens like a clipper on the floor but that’s the way I like it. Oh, and the fin from the other side…I am not sure about it. For now, I’ll tuck that under your armpits – a permanent tickler for your enjoyment.”

If a flounder is what an intelligent designer can come up with, we should give up on the designer and crawl back into earth. But, what if the force that twisted the face of the flounder was Evolution, which is blind and simply works with the genetic material available to select the fish for survival? Well, in that case, we can atleast tell the flounder that it was nothing personal.

When push comes to shove, survival is surely more important than looks. I saw this flounder wobbling about in an aquarium in Kew Gardens last weekend. Kew Gardens is a botanical garden with an immense variety of plants. Incredible place to spend a day. I have uploaded a few more pictures up on flickr that I took while in Kew Gardens.


  1. #1 s. zeilenga
    September 18, 2006

    Ah yes, there’s a good argument for evolution… the fish doesn’t isn’t aesthetically pleasing so it surely wasn’t designed. sigh.


  2. #2 Sophie
    September 18, 2006

    I was observing one of these in the wild on Saturday, and had great fun watching it eat : it picks on the sand floor with a ‘sideways’ (i.e. downwards) head movement, eating from the corner (is it a corner ?) of its mouth… very comical. We declared it to be a very good example of unintelligent design.
    The transformation of the young fish (which look like ‘normal’ fish) into the adult flounder is also very puzzling, one eye moves away from the side of the body that will eventually become the underside of the fish, and gets to the top side, yes, moving eyes… which tends to suggest beings can evolve…

  3. #3 Selva
    September 18, 2006

    >The transformation of the young fish (which look like ‘normal’ fish) into the adult flounder is also very puzzling

    Indeed. It’s like our left ear moving next the right ear as we grow. It would be very interesting to find out how this really works (the underlying genetic causes).

  4. #4 ericnh
    September 18, 2006

    We have some flounders in one of our aquarium tanks at home, and both my wife (who’s the fish hobbyist) and I both think they’re the coolest looking critters. Whether they bury themselves in the sand or attach themselves to the sides of the tank, they’re fascinating to watch. When we first got them a few months ago I think I had a brief thought about the “unintelligentness” of their design as well.

  5. #5 Steve Dekorte
    September 19, 2006

    Biology is filled with examples of poor but workable designs which only make sense from an evolutionary perspective.

    The eyes of mammals for example have the nerves facing in the wrong direction, forcing the light to pass through the dendrites before reaching the photoreceptors. Independently evolved eyes such as the ones in cephalopods (like the octopus) face the other direction.

    Some other examples are how humans grow tails as embryos and then re-absorb them, vestige appendages on all sort of animals such as the appendix in humans, and nipples on males.

  6. #6 Andy Dabydeen
    September 19, 2006

    Love it!

  7. #7 Rendwich
    September 19, 2006

    Founders are born just like any other fish. One eye “migrates” to the opposite side of the head after the fish is nearly mature.

    Worse yet, there are individuals in every species of flounder whose migrating eye moves to the “unfavored” side. In some species either side of the head is equaly preferred.

    I have no idea how you can call that “evolution” – unless you believe that every baby flounder “evolves” from the “lost species” to a completely new structure, in one generation.

    Maybe next week you can do an expose on the “evolution” of every caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. How about the remarkable “evolution” of an egg into a bird?

  8. #8 Jeff
    September 19, 2006

    I’m not arguing in favor of ‘intelligent design’, but you certainly can’t use the flounder to disprove it either.

    The flounder’s design is brilliant. In fact, it is perfectly adapted to the niche it fills. From its ability to rapidly change colors and patterns to match the ground its on, to the fact that its eye moves from the juvenile to the adult position, every feature on the flounder ‘works’ for its environment.

    Whether the flounder was ‘guided’ into this configuration, or it happened as a random occurence, its still a good design. Proof is in the fact that it still exists (and may outlast us!).

    For those who believe in a ‘higher power’, of whatever form, the flounder serves as a good example of how complex and amazing this universe is. Far too complex and amazing to be mere coincidence.

    (And don’t forget one other thing: There are many who have no problem in believing that evolution is a TOOL of that higher power, so when you argue that evolution is unintelligent, they just shake their heads and say “He’s obviously blinded by just how intelligent the whole plan is!)

  9. #9 JadePhilosopher
    September 19, 2006

    I could make logically similar (“I don’t understand, so it’s stupid!”) arguments demonstrating that most software is not intelligently designed. It would have as little point. Sigh. This sort of debate (“I’m right!!! THEY are WRONG!!!”) is little more than an ape thumping his chest, declaring his dominance over others.

    I’m not liberal. I’m not conservative. I’m anti-idiotarian.

  10. #10 Justin Hirsh
    September 19, 2006

    Maybe the design was slapped together before a lunch break.

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