Our first case is a scary one. The Black Mamba is a venomous snake found in Africa. It can grow up to 4 metres long. It is actually green in colour, but has a black lining to its mouth. The Mamba is quick to defend itself, and will rear up high and lash out with its poisonous fangs at anyone who comes close. It is also able to move across the ground at 14 mph (20 kph), which is as fast as a man can run. It strikes many times, forcing large amounts of venom into its victim. The venom is a powerful neurotoxin that stops the heart beating, so that the victim dies rapidly from respiratory failure unless an anti-toxin is injected within minutes. Black Mamba venom is a clear fluid, made and stored in two chambers in the top of the skull. Each chamber is connected to a long, curved fang that is hollow, with a small hole in the tip. When the Mamba strikes, powerful muscles surrounding the venom glands contract, forcing the fluid through the hollow tooth into the flesh of the victim, where it is rapidly absorbed by the blood stream and transported to the heart.

The venom contains a mixture of specialised proteins. The most potent of these is a molecule called dendrotoxin which is built up from 59 amino acids in a single string, held together in the right shape with bonds containing sulphur. This targets the central nervous system, and stops the nerves transmitting their signals. The victim liter­ally dies of suffocation, as the lungs stop inflating and the heart ceases to beat. Other proteins in the fluid help to speed up absorption of the venom.

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An interesting point is that the long hollow fangs are easily damaged in use, especially if the victim struggles. It has to be remembered that the venom is normally used to provide the Mamba with its dinner. It only strikes humans if it feels threatened. Usually, it is hapless rodents or birds that are lanced by the snake, and once their struggles are over, it eats them. Now, if the snake were to lose one or both of its fangs, it would soon starve to death. Amazingly, it has a pair of replacement fangs already queuing up behind the active ones, ready to connect up to the poison gland and take over if the previous one breaks off.

Useless until complete

Let us ask some questions. First, how did the Mamba’s ancestor develop this powerful nerve poison? As we have seen, the proteins that make the venom lethal are very complex, built up from dozens of amino acids coupled together in a specific order. How could such a potent molecule arise? It was once thought that the saliva of the snake became toxic, but the latest research shows that this is not so. There are indeed similar shaped but non-lethal proteins in the liver and other organs. But even if these were transplanted by mutation to appear in the head, they would have to be ‘tweaked’. Until the very last of the dozens of amino acids that make up the toxin molecule has been clipped into the correct place, the molecule would not become toxic. Up to that point, the precursor of the dendrotoxin would not kill anything. The snake would be developing cells in its head that secreted a protein with no practical use. And even when the venom became toxic, the fluid, as a fluid, would be ineffective without a surrounding sac of strong muscles and a hollow fang to inject it into the body of the victim. How does a hollow tooth arise? The evolutionist would say that the earliest snakes had solid teeth. How does the change take place? Can a mutation or a string of mutations create even a groove in a straight line down the outside of a tooth, let alone a hole down the centre? (Remember, such changes must be random and without a pre-conceived purpose.) And how does the new hollow tooth connect up to the venom sac? And without the powerful muscles also be­ing there to force the toxin into the wound, how would the hollow tooth inject enough toxin to immobilise the victim? And what happened in the millions of years before the replacement teeth came along? How did they acquire the ability to slide into place after one gets broken, and then connect up to the venom gland without leaking?

The point is, until the whole apparatus is present and correct, it cannot function. The toxin and the delivery system have to develop in parallel. A human brain, given time and the right materials and labora­tory facilities, might research a chemical compound that would paralyse the nerves of mammals or birds. It might even design a delivery system, complete with backups. But evolution has no brain. There is no de­signer. Or is there? For some of us, the argument for a Creator is compelling. We cannot see these wonderful systems coming together purely through mutations and natural selection. The probability of such a thing happening unguided would require more years than the life of the universe.