Instinct—Wisdom Programmed Before Birth
1. What were Darwin’s comments about instinct?
“MANY instincts are so wonderful that their development will probably appear to the reader a difficulty sufficient to overthrow my whole theory,” Darwin wrote. He evidently felt that instinct was an unanswerable difficulty, for his next sentence was: “I may here premise that I have nothing to do with the origin of the mental powers, any more than I have with that of life itself.”1
2. How do some scientists today view instinct?
2 Scientists today are no closer to explaining instinct than Darwin was. One evolutionist says: “The plain fact is that the genetic mechanism shows not the slightest sign of being able to convey specific behaviour patterns. . . . When we ask ourselves how any instinctive pattern of behaviour arose in the first place and became hereditarily fixed we are given no answer.”2
3, 4. What does one book have to say about how the instinct to migrate got started, and how does its explanation fall short?
3 Yet one widely circulated book on birds, unlike Darwin and other evolutionists, sees no difficulty in accounting for one of the most mysterious instincts—that involved in migration. It says: “There is no question that the process has been an evolutionary one: birds originating in warm climates probably spread outward in their search for food.”3
4 Can such a simplistic answer explain the astounding feats of many migrators? Scientists know that any such experimental wanderings and learned behaviors are not incorporated into the genetic code and hence are not inherited by the offspring. Migration is admittedly instinctive and “independent of past experience.”4 Consider a few examples.
Awesome Feats of Migrators
5. What migrations make the arctic terns the long-distance champions, and what question is raised by one scientist?
5 The long-distance champions are the arctic terns. Nesting north of the Arctic Circle, at summer’s end they fly south to spend the Antarctic summer on the pack ice near the South Pole. They may circle the entire continent of Antarctica before heading north to return to the Arctic. They thus complete an annual migration of about 22,000 miles. Rich food sources are available at both polar regions, so one scientist raises the question: “How did they ever discover that such sources existed so far apart?”5 Evolution has no answer.
6, 7. What seems strange about the blackpoll warbler’s migration, and what questions make us realize the magnitude of its performance?
6 Just as unexplainable for evolution is the migration of the blackpoll warbler. It weighs only three quarters of an ounce. Yet in the fall it travels from Alaska to the eastern coast of Canada or New England, gorges on food, stores up fat and then waits for a cold front. When it comes, the bird takes off. Its final destination is South America, but it first heads toward Africa. Out over the Atlantic Ocean, flying at an altitude of up to some 20,000 feet, it picks up a prevailing wind that turns it toward South America.
7 How does the warbler know to wait for the cold front, and that it means good weather and a tail wind? How does it know to climb higher and higher, where air is thin and cold, and has 50 percent less oxygen? How does it know that only up that high does the crosswind blow that will carry it to South America? How does it know to fly toward Africa to allow for the southwestern drift from this wind? The blackpoll does not consciously know any of these things. On this trip of some 2,400 miles, over trackless seas, flying for three or four days and nights, it is governed by instinct alone.
8. What additional migratory feats are here mentioned?
8 White storks summer in Europe but fly 8,000 miles to winter in South Africa. The golden plover travels from the Arctic tundra to the pampas in Argentina. Certain sandpipers migrate a thousand miles beyond the pampas to the tip of South America. Bristle-thighed curlews fly from Alaska to Tahiti and other islands, up to 6,000 miles over open ocean. In a much shorter flight but just as remarkable, considering its size, the tenth-of-an-ounce ruby-throated hummingbird in its migration of 600 miles crosses the Gulf of Mexico, beating its tiny wings up to 75 times a second for 25 hours. Over six million wingbeats without stopping!
9. (a) What shows that abilities to migrate are not learned but must be programmed before birth? (b) What experiments with a Manx shearwater and with homing pigeons show that these birds are versatile navigators?
9 Many migrations are made for the first time by young birds without adults. Young long-tailed cuckoos of New Zealand travel 4,000 miles to Pacific islands to join their parents who had gone earlier. Manx shearwaters migrate from Wales to Brazil, leaving behind their chicks, which follow them as soon as they can fly. One made the trip in 16 days, averaging 460 miles per day. A Manx shearwater was taken from Wales to Boston, far off its normal migratory route. Yet it returned to its home burrow in Wales 3,200 miles away in 12 1/2 days. Homing pigeons, taken 625 miles away in any direction, have returned to their home lofts in one day.
10. What experiment showed the Adélie penguins’ powers of navigation?
10 One last example: birds that do not fly but walk and swim. Consider the Adélie penguins. When removed 1,200 miles from their rookeries and released, they quickly oriented themselves and set out in a straight line, not for the home rookery from which they were taken, but for the open sea and food. From the sea they eventually returned to the rookery. They spend the almost totally dark winters at sea. But how do the penguins stay oriented during the dark winter? No one knows.
11. What is required for birds to perform such amazing feats of navigation?
11 How do birds perform these feats of navigation? Experiments indicate that they may use the sun and the stars. They appear to have internal clocks to compensate for the movement of these heavenly bodies. But what if the sky is overcast? At least some birds have built-in magnetic compasses for use then. But more than a compass direction is needed. They need a “map” in their heads, with both starting and destination points on it. And on the map the route must be marked, since it is seldom a straight line. But none of this helps unless they know where they are located on the map! The Manx shearwater had to know where it was when released in Boston to determine the direction to Wales. The homing pigeon had to know where it had been taken before it could ascertain the way to its loft.
12. (a) What did Jeremiah say about migration, when did he say it, and why is this remarkable? (b) Why may we never know all the details about migration?
12 As late as the Middle Ages the fact of widespread bird migration was disputed by many, but the Bible spoke of it in the sixth century B.C.E.: “The stork in the sky knows the time to migrate, the dove and the swift and the wryneck know the season of return.” By now much has been learned, but much is still a mystery. Like it or not, what the Bible says is true: “He has given men a sense of time past and future, but no comprehension of God’s work from beginning to end.”—Jeremiah 8:7; Ecclesiastes 3:11, The New English Bible.
13. Besides birds, what are some other animals that migrate?
13 Caribou in Alaska migrate south 800 miles in winter. Many whales travel over 6,000 miles from the Arctic Ocean and back. Fur seals migrate between the Pribilof Islands and southern California, 3,000 miles apart. Green sea turtles navigate from the coast of Brazil to tiny Ascension Island, 1,400 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, and then back. Some crabs migrate up to 150 miles on the ocean floor. Salmon leave the streams where they hatched and spend a few years in the open ocean, then return hundreds of miles to the very same streams of their birth. Young eels born in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic spend most of their lives in freshwater streams in the United States and in Europe, but return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn.
14. What is amazing about the migration of monarch butterflies, and what mystery is unsolved?
14 Monarch butterflies leave Canada in the fall, many wintering in California or Mexico. Some flights exceed 2,000 miles; one butterfly covered 80 miles in a day. They settle on sheltered trees—the same groves, even the same trees, year after year. But not the same butterflies! On the return trip in spring they deposit eggs on milkweed plants. The new butterflies thus produced continue the northward migration, and in the following fall they make the same 2,000-mile trip south that their parents did, blanketing the same groves of trees. The book The Story of Pollination comments: “The butterflies that come south in the fall are young individuals which have never before seen the hibernation sites. What enables them to find these is still one of those elusive mysteries of Nature.”6
15. What one word answers several questions on the wisdom of animals?
15 Instinctive wisdom is not limited to migration. A quick sampling proves this point.
How can millions of blind termites synchronize their labors to build and air-condition their elaborate structures? Instinct.
How does the pronuba moth know the several steps to take to cross-pollinate the yucca flower, whereby both new yucca plants and new moths can be formed? Instinct.
How can the spider that lives in its “diving bell” under water know that when the oxygen is gone it must cut a hole in its underwater bell, release the stale air, mend the hole and bring down a new supply of fresh air? Instinct.
How does the mimosa girdler beetle know it must lay its eggs under the bark of a mimosa tree branch, come in a foot or so toward the trunk and cut the bark all the way around to kill the branch, because its eggs will not hatch in live wood? Instinct.
How does the bean-sized baby kangaroo, born blind and undeveloped, know that to survive it must struggle up unassisted through its mother’s fur to her abdomen and into her pouch and attach itself to one of her teats? Instinct.
How does one dancing honeybee tell other bees where nectar is, how much there is, how far it is, in what direction it is and the kind of flower it is on? Instinct.
16. What does all the wisdom behind animal behavior require?
16 Such questions could continue and fill a book, yet all the questions would have the same answer: “They are instinctively wise.” (Proverbs 30:24) “How was it possible,” one researcher wonders, “for such complicated instinctive knowledge to develop and be passed on to successive generations?”7 Men cannot explain it. Evolution cannot account for it. But such intelligence still demands an intelligent source. Such wisdom still calls for a wise source. It calls for an intelligent, wise Creator.
17. What reasoning of many evolutionists is it wise to avoid?
17 Yet many who believe in evolution automatically reject as irrelevant all such evidence for creation, saying it is not a matter for scientific consideration. However, do not let this narrow approach keep you from weighing the evidence. There is more in the following chapter.
[Blurb on page 160]
Darwin: “I have nothing to do with the origin of the mental powers”
[Blurb on page 160]
As to how instinct arose and became hereditary, “we are given no answer”
[Blurb on page 167]
“They are instinctively wise”
[Box/Pictures on page 164, 165]
Nest Building and Instinct
“There is not the faintest indication,” says science writer G. R. Taylor concerning the genetic machinery, “that it can hand on a behavioural programme of a specific kind, such as the sequence of actions involved in nest building.”a Nevertheless, the instinctive wisdom of nest building is handed down, not taught. Consider a few examples.
Hornbills of Africa and Asia. The female brings clay and walls up the opening to a cavity in a hollow tree until she can just barely squeeze inside. The male brings her more mud and she closes the hole until only a slit remains open. Through it the male feeds her, and the babies that eventually hatch. When the male can no longer bring enough food, the female breaks out. This time the opening is repaired by the babies, and both parents bring food to them. Several weeks later, the babies break down the wall and leave the nest. Incidentally, is it not an evidence of purposeful design for the female, while confined and not flying, to molt completely and grow a new wardrobe of feathers?
Swifts. One species makes its nests out of saliva. Before the breeding season begins, the salivary glands swell and produce a viscous, mucous secretion. With its arrival comes the instinctive wisdom to know what to do with it. They smear it on a rock face; as it hardens more layers are added, and finally a cup-shaped nest is completed. Another species of swifts makes nests no bigger than a teaspoon, glues them on to palm leaves and then glues the eggs in the nest.
Emperor Penguins carry built-in nests. In the Antarctic winter the female lays an egg and goes off fishing for two or three months. The male puts the egg on his feet, which are richly supplied with blood vessels, and drapes over it a brood pouch that hangs down from his abdomen. Mother does not forget father and baby. Soon after the egg hatches, the mother returns with a stomach full of food that she regurgitates for them. Then the male goes off to fish while mother puts baby on her feet and drapes her brood pouch over it.
The Weaverbirds of Africa use grasses and other fibers to make their hanging nests. They instinctively use a variety of weave patterns and various kinds of knots. Sociable weavers build what may be likened to apartment houses, making a thatched roof some 15 feet in diameter in strong tree branches, and to the bottom of this, many pairs attach their nests. New nests are added until over a hundred nests may eventually be sheltered under the one roof.
The Tailorbird of southern Asia makes thread from cotton or bark fibers and spiderweb, splicing short pieces together to make longer lengths. With its beak it punches holes along the two edges of a large leaf. Then, using its beak as a needle, with the thread it pulls the two edges of the leaf together, as we lace up our shoes. When it comes to the end of the thread it either knots it to hold it fast or it splices on a new piece and continues sewing. In this way the tailorbird turns the big leaf into a cup in which it makes the nest.
The Penduline Tit’s hanging nest becomes almost like felt because it uses pieces of downy plant material as well as grasses. The basic structure of the nest is made by weaving longer grass fibers back and forth. The bird pushes the ends of the fibers through the mesh with its bill. Then it takes the shorter fibers of downy material and pushes these into the weaving. The process is somewhat like the technique of Oriental carpet weavers. These nests are so strong and soft that they have been used as purses or even as slippers for children.
The Horned Coot usually builds its nest on a small, flat island. However, where it lives this type of island is very rare. So, the horned coot makes its own island! It picks out an appropriate place on the water and then begins to carry stones there in its beak.The stones are piled up in water that is about two or three feet deep, until an island is formed. The base may be as much as 13 feet in diameter, and the pile of stones may weigh more than a ton. On this stone island the horned coot then brings vegetation to build its large nest.
[Pictures on page 161]
The arctic tern migrates 22,000 miles every year
How does this warbler with a brain the size of a pea know so much about weather and navigation?
[Pictures on page 162]
When migrating, this hummingbird beats its wings up to 75 times a second for 25 hours
Born with a “map” in their heads, migrating birds know where they are and where they are going
[Picture on page 163]
Penguins can spend months at sea in almost total darkness and then migrate unerringly back to their rookeries
[Pictures on page 166]
After their 2,000-mile journey south, monarch butterflies rest in their wintering grounds