Anyone who believes in Intelligent Design clearly never met a hyena.
Granted, the camel looks like it was assembled from a bunch of mismatched parts ordered by people who never talked to one another. But at least, in the camel’s case, one can make a sound argument that each of its parts, considered alone, is correctly designed for some rational purpose. (The same cannot be said for its disposition, but…)
The hyena has a superficial appearance of being assembled by the same factory that produced the camel. Most would agree that the result is singularly aesthetically challenged. Among other problems, the back half was clearly meant for a smaller animal than the front. It can run quite fast and for long periods, but its bear-like front section combines with its short-legged back end to give it a ludicrous galumphing gait.
Still, its canine pack strategy and bone-crushing jaws combine to make it one of the most successful predators and scavengers around. Ugly, yes. Mismatched, yes. But one of the scariest member of the dog family.
Except that it’s not a member of the dog family.
I recently had the opportunity for a close encounter with a hyena named Ed. When I commented to his keeper (Charlie) about how naked Ed looked without a pack to keep him company, I expected Charlie to say that he was now the leader of Ed’s pack and therefore he was able to control him.
Instead Charlie informed me that hyenas are not members of the dog family at all. In fact, they have a separate taxonomic family all their own. So far away are they from being dogs that the mongoose and the meerkat are the hyena’s closest relatives.
Now the relationship between the mongoose and the meerkat I can kind of see. They are both rather long, skinny, cat-like creatures. While some mongooses are solitary, others, like the meerkats, live in large groups (called, incidentally, mongaggles). One can even imagine a mongoose admitting a certain kinship with its lesser cousins. But it would take a very broad-minded mongoose indeed to acknowledge any relationship with a hyena.
Just to confuse me further, Charlie mentioned that they weren’t sure if Ed was a boy hyena or a girl hyena. At that moment Charlie had Ed on his/her back while he scratched him/her on the inside of the thigh. It turns out that if you scratch a hyena on the inside of the thigh, you have a very happy hyena who will lie there splayed out as long as you keep it up.
In that position, Ed’s gender hardly seemed in question. A large phallus was clearly visible, as was a rather small scrotum. Ed was clearly a boy hyena.
Not so, said Charlie. Girl hyenas come equipped with a “peniform” clitoris exactly the size of a male phallus. And that small “scrotum” I saw was really just a duplex fat bag shared by both sexes. Their gonads are internal.
But wait, there’s more. Turns out the female not only copulates through her pseudophallus, she also delivers her pups through it. (OW!) The only way she can do this is for the meatus to tear and allow the pups to come through the opening. (Double OW!) Not infrequently, the mothers die from the hemorrhaging.
The question, of course, is why on earth such a design would exist, much less persist. There are a number of theories, such as the idea that looking like a male prevents the female pups from being picked on or the idea that the extra androgens that produce these weird features might make the females more aggressive and better able to take care of themselves.
Okay, maybe so. Maybe there is some benefit. I can’t see that it is commensurate with what is clearly an enormous disadvantage.
Which brings us back to Intelligent Design. One of the things I’ve noticed is that the Intelligent Design folks always focus on those aspects of life that seem beautifully and neatly designed to carry out their function. Idiotic side-steps, non-functional carry-overs, or just plain bad designs are conveniently ignored.
Such, it seems to me, is the case with the hyena. Positing an Intelligent Designer from the wonderfulness of the design surely has problems here.
Of course, the Evolutionists have their own problems. They would say that the sheer power of Natural Selection insures that the niches in life are filled with the most efficient designs by a rigorous selection.
Exactly how the hyena fits into that argument, I’m not sure.
Instead, I would argue that the hyena and the camel and a number of other bizarre creations are just as good evidence for a Creator with an outre vision and a very strange sense of humor.
Call it the Mean Little Kid theory of Creation.