Instinct at Work


Originally published in Pulpit Helps, May 2009.

Animals perform some wonderfully sophisticated actions at times. Anyone who has ever watched a lowly spider create beautiful geometric designs as she spins her web knows this.

The trapdoor spider spins her snug retreat and then tops it with a hinged plug of webbing, which she closes behind her each time she leaves. Leaf cutter ants use pieces of leaves for compost in their underground fungus "gardens." Caddis worms house their soft bodies in hard tubes which they fashion from sand or debris on the bottom of the ponds they live in. Even some of the single-celled protozoans cement grains of sand together to form protective coverings.

These are but a few of hundreds of examples that could be cited about the ways in which members of the animal kingdom respond to their environment.

But there is a question that must be asked about these responses: Are the animals in question displaying intelligence or instinct? That is, do they learn how to survive, or do they blindly follow instincts, which were ingrained in them from of old?

Some of the higher animals are indeed capable of learning simple tasks. Everyday examples include sheep dogs handling a flock of sheep and cutting horses learning to partner with their riders in selecting cattle from a herd. There are also cases of chimpanzees and monkeys employing sticks as tools to reach food just beyond their reach; and dolphins have been trained to do various tasks in response to signals.

But other examples from the lower orders of animal life show an automaton-like response: the caterpillar goes on finishing its cocoon, even if the bulk of its earlier work has been demolished. A wasp goes on storing spiders as food for its young, even after the egg has been removed; then she will carefully close up the hatchery she has constructed, as though the egg were still inside. A mother tarantula, who carries her silk-wrapped egg case everywhere with her, will accept a pellet of cork offered in its stead. The just-emerging mason bee can cut its way through the rock-hard shell of its incubation chamber, but is stymied by an additional sheet of ordinary paper, simply because its instinct only allows for one barrier to be cut through.

There is intelligence behind the behavior of these little creatures, but it is not their own. They do not think about these bred-in responses, no matter how elaborate they may be.

It is often claimed by evolutionists that these instincts are "racial memories," but this will not stand examination. In many, many instances it is easy to show that the instinct had to have been fully functioning from the very first for the species to survive at all.

No, the intelligence displayed is not their own, even "racially," but their Creator's. God is the one who molded each species to fit a particular niche in our world. It was He who drew the pattern for their protective instincts, as well as every other adaptation needed for their survival.

Listen to the wisdom of Nehemiah: "Thou, even thou, art Lord alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host; the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all..." (Neh. 9:6). God does preserve His creatures, and one of the chief ways He does this is through God-given instincts.

God has given instincts to man, also. One of these is the instinctive need to seek our Maker. It is as someone has said: "Within each human heart is a God-sized vacuum, which nothing else can fill."

When the least animal disobeys its instinct, it is in serious trouble; and it is the same with us. If we quench this inner hunger for God, or try to substitute a god of our own choosing, we damage ourselves-sometimes irreparably.

Instead, let us heed our instinct; let us fulfill our destiny; let us give praise, honor, and obedience to our Maker and our God.

The Old Scot (Ted Kyle) served as managing editor for Pulpit Helps magazine (Disciple's predecessor publication) from 1993-2008. He was always fascinated by the natural world, and readily saw God's hand in every detail. Ted went to be with His Creator and Savior in April 2013.

Sources: Illustrated Library of Nature, H. S. Stuttman Co., NY, 1971. The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre, J. Henri Fabre, Dodd, Mead & Co., NY, 1949. The Wonders of Instinct, J. Henri Fabre, The Century Co., NY, 1918. The Mason Bees, J. Henri Fabre, Garden City Pub. Co, Garden City, NY, 1914.

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