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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Emergent Properties & Animal Behavior

In a recent post, I wrote about Heinrich's The Thermal Warriors, which is about the difficulty of coping with being cold-blooded, and the marvelous ways insects cope. To quote myself:

Although it's not at all the theme of the book, I guess that, for the sake of some readers, I need to discuss this marvelousness a little. It seems to me that there are three possibilities:

Marvelous mechanisms in biology are solely the result of chance.
Marvelous mechanisms in biology were created specially in each species, or in organisms that gave rise to families or genera of species that mostly have these mechanisms.
The capacity to change over time so as to develop marvelous mechanisms was part of the way the universe was created.

Let me consider these three possibilities a little further. In yesterday's post, I introduced the idea of emergent properties. The third possibility, if true, would be an example of this.

There are a number of theories of origins. This is not the time or place to consider all of them in depth, but I'll do a shallow consideration of some of them here.

Young-earth creationists would say that the second possibility must have been what really happened. God hard-wired some insects to behave in marvelous ways, either individually, or as social insects, to cope with the effects of temperature. Intelligent Design advocates would say this about some marvelous mechanisms, perhaps including these coping mechanisms. These groups may be right about this.

However, there are other thinkers, who also reject naturalism--the idea that there is no purpose to the universe, and no God--and who hold that there are emergent properties, built in to living things, or even into atoms, by an intelligent God. They might say, for example, that God planned and built Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen atoms so that they would form carbohydrates. They would also say that God planned living things so that they would use natural selection as a mechanism to cope with various aspects of their environment. Insects that began to act in certain ways had an advantage over those that didn't, and they produced more offspring.

Which is right? Hebrews 11:3, (By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen hath not been made out of things which appear, ASV) as I understand it, says that we know about origins by faith. I don't believe it is possible to prove, or disprove, any of the three possibilities scientifically. I reject the first one, because my faith in God demands that I do.

God was capable of creating termites, say, with the ability to construct air-conditioning systems right out of the egg, and did so. If that is what happened, some species of termites had this ability immediately.

God was also capable of creating termites, or pre-termites, that were selected for this behavior. If that is what happened, some species gradually developed this ability. Which is correct? I don't know. However, as I see it, either of these shows an omniscient, omnipotent God at work.

Col 1:16 for in him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him; 17 and he is before all things, and in him all things consist. (ASV. Other versions use different words for the last idea, such as the NLT's "he holds all creation together." As I understand it, they all imply that Christ is active in the universe now, in the present.)

The Bible seems to teach us that God did not just create the universe, and go off and leave it. Colossians 1:16-17 is evidence against that. So are at least the miracles of original creation; of the delivery of the Israelites from Egypt; of the incarnation, life, teaching, ministry and resurrection of Christ; and of the growth of the church--God seems to have intervened directly in events in what was, for humans, real time. Other events called miracles may have been the result of direct intervention at the time, or of pre-planning on God's part. Creating termites with air-conditioning ability would have been a miracle. So would creating organisms that could evolve into such termites.

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