Monday, September 21, 2009

Waggle Dance

Insects are amazing creatures. One of the most mind-rocking discoveries about them was made by Karl von Fritsch back in the 1940s when he worked out the significance of the honeybee waggle dance. This astonishing behavior occurs inside a pitch dark hive when a bee returning from a feeding foray does a dance that signals to other bees - which feel the dancer's moves with their forelegs - which direction and how far they should fly to find food. The dance even factors in such variables as windage. It's truly astonishing and, as an article by Caroline Williams at New Scientist tells us, how and why such a behavior could have evolved is a profound mystery.

Now new research is suggesting that honey bees usually ignore the dance and rely on other methods to find food, but if the dance is irrelevant the mystery just deepens. After all, the dance is still an accurate code for finding food so the question of how and why an insect with a brain smaller than a grain of sand developed such an elaborate behavior is still unanswered. Moreover, if the dance is unnecessary or ignored then we're faced with the question as to how it evolved when it doesn't confer any particular advantage on the bees. We're also confronted with the puzzle of explaining, if the bees don't need it and don't pay much attention to it, how and why it's retained in the genome.

Since we're asking difficult questions about the evolution of insect behaviors that are excruciatingly difficult to explain in terms of purely mechanistic processes, here's another - butterfly metamorphosis. How did it come to pass that a caterpillar could build around itself a chrysalis, completely dissociate the cells and tissues of its body inside the chrysalis, and reorganize those tissues in the form of a butterfly? To think that such a process could have evolved solely by chance is not unlike thinking that a computer programmed to build motorcycles could, by randomly jostling the bits and bytes of software code, reprogram the computer to build fighter jets.

I have no problem with the notion that metamorphosis developed over time and that mutation and natural selection played a role. My problem is with believing that such a process could occur without the guidance of an intelligent mind. It takes more faith than what I can muster to believe that natural processes alone are sufficient to accomplish such miracles.

People sometimes say that Christians must check their reason at the door of the church, but no one must suspend his reason or his skepticism more often than the materialist who believes that metamorphosis evolved solely by the chance concatenation of physical forces.


Hey, Let's Defend Iran Against Israel

Gerald Posner interviews former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski for The Daily Beast and gets a real scoop. In the course of the session Brzezinski opined, believe it or not, that we should be prepared, essentially, to go to war with Israel in order to defend Iran:

Posner: How aggressive can Obama be in insisting to the Israelis that a military strike might be in America's worst interest?

Brzezinski: We are not exactly impotent little babies. They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch?

Posner: What if they fly over anyway?

Brzezinski: Well, we have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren't just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a Liberty in reverse. [Israeli jet fighters and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, off the Sinai Peninsula, during the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel later claimed the ship was the object of friendly fire.]

This is quite startling advice. Mr. Brzezinski advocates attacking an ally who was trying to do what we should have done ourselves by taking out Iran's nuclear weapons capability. Mr. Brzezinski is suggesting here that we should actually put our airmen at risk in order to defend Iran. He thinks that we should throw our relationship with Israel away - the intelligence cooperation, the alliance with the only country in the Middle East that shares our values - in order to keep Iran safe, even though Iran has threatened numerous times to use its nukes to destroy Israel.

People can differ on exactly what should be done about Iran, but an act of war against ally seems an odd way to treat one's friends. Wouldn't some sort of diplomatic protest after the fact be wiser than going to war with a country with which we share such a close relationship? Apparently, Mr. Brzezinski doesn't think so.

It's no wonder people get the willies when they think of Democrats running our national defense.