Flight of the bumble bee



In my younger days, I remember hearing a sermon about the miracle of the flight of the bumble bee. The story went that according to science, the bumble bee should not be able to fly. It's body weight, flapping frequency, and wing span did not add up to an aerodynamic critter. It was physically impossible. Googling around, it sounds like this is still being preached. Obviously the bumble bee flies. Does God propel this bulbous bug from flower to flower so that gardens grow? How cute God operates to create His aesthetic!

If you look at the video, you'll see that it's the way that the bumble bee flaps its wings that it's able to generate vortex swirls to give it lift. These details were first presented in 1972 by Torkel Weis-Fogh in the paper Energetics of Hovering Flight in Hummingbirds and in Drosophila, and the implication was that several flying insects employ this flutter. Why bumble bee flight still persists as an urban legend is hard to tell, but some people like my childhood pastor seem to relish the idea of scientists not being able to solve everything.

When science cannot provide the answers, especially when scientists are baffled by what everyone can plainly see, the implication is that man's devices are puny in the grand scheme. Therefore, there must be a God behind the observation. It empowers believers to romanticize their stories and beliefs...for a moment.

But what happens when the scientist provides a natural explanation? The hand of God is no longer hand-carrying these bees from flower to flower. They're just doing what bees do to survive, unknowingly pollinating more food for themselves. As I said in my Faith in... post, you have to be prepared for the fallout if you are someday proved wrong.

Looking at our physiology, there are still thousands of basic questions scientists cannot answer. What induces a child to start breathing the second it is born? How do neurons in the embryo navigate the spaghetti of other neurons to find the appropriate target cells to form synapses with? If we're just a bunch of molecules that make up cells, what leads to these molecules feeling pleasure or pain? Science can't explain these miracles...yet.

My faith was built on the romantic notion that the complexities of life were too complicated to have evolved and required a creator. Science proved that notion wrong.

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Now, for another "Flight of the Bumble Bee" that defies science....

5 comments:

Gordon J. Glover said...

Hey Tom, great post! You'll find no arguments from me, I think this God-of-Gaps-Gospel actually undermines faith by placing it in competition with that which can be known emperically.

-GJG

7K said...

What is it that underlies the resistance of the faith community to science? And yet, some of the greatest, like Newton, were men of faith.

During its infancy, the church was persecuted by Rome. After Constantine, the church was Rome. Then, with the revolution of printing technology, along came science and, in the church, the protest movement against the hegemony of the Roman Church. And a lot of childish name-calling.

Did science challenge, or help challenge, the church-state? Was this a power-play?

The Catholic Church essentially put together what we now call "The Bible." Protestants tended to make the Bible into God's textbook. Fundamentalists literalized it in true Modernist-reductionist style, until we had this 6-day creation fiasco and thou-shalt-not-challenge-biblical-information hysteria.

It doesn't matter to me where truth is divulged, be it in nature or literature: truth is truth. And the church needs to get the balls to admit it. From the faith-perspective, God made science, too. Why would he be afraid of it?

Oddly, the Roman Church does not deny evolution. It is the American fundamentalists who have a spasmodic-epidemtion at the mere mention of the word. But I think fundamentalism is partly just a symptom of Modernism applied to religion. It is formulaic and absolute. It won't stand the test of time.

So it isn't about a struggle between religion and science. There is something else going on here: something more subtle. There is a basic flaw in fundamentalism that paints the wrong picture of God. It is a disconnect with its own foundations. There is a vast number of devotees who are over a thousand years removed from their foundation and don't have a clue what it was to begin with.

Russ said...

7K said, "It doesn't matter to me where truth is divulged, be it in nature or literature: truth is truth. And the church needs to get the balls to admit it."

To me, if there were a non-believers creed, it would in some way express the sentiment that in human experience, truth has many authors, including me.

It so happens that I am a scientist and I seek out some of those regularities from the natural world that are to a significant extent objective truths, ones my experience of which can be reproduced by my colleagues in China, England or the Moon. I choose from the vast treasure chest of accumulated scientific understanding, knowledge, processes and techniques to facilitate my ferreting out little reliable bits that can be added back into the store.

In addition to being a scientist, I am also a stand alone human being, isolated from all others within my body. I cannot communicate to anyone, except in the most cursory of manners, my subjective sense of my experience of the universe around me. To better grasp this necessarily narrow parochial world view, I rely on literature through which others relate as best they can their understanding of their own subjective experience as well as their understanding of others' subjective experience.

When you say, "truth is truth," for the most part, I agree, but I do not think that there exists a body of objectively discernible truth that includes those things constituting my subjective experience. My subjective experience and self-perception is constantly changing as I update it to accommodate new information, new understanding, and my ever-changing new reality resulting from the natural aging process.

I concur when you say, "And the church needs to get the balls to admit it," but I don't think it will ever happen. Religionists, clerics and laypeople alike, are too heavily invested in perceiving themselves as having answers, despite the clear fact that they are devoid of useful solutions to real people's real problems.

7K said...

As a scientist you may never have read anything by M. Scott Peck (and I'm not necessarily recommending it). He is a psychiatrist who, after decades of practice, was seeking a kind of theory of evil. His conclusion was that evil people (the book is called "People of the Lie") are not necessarily the ones on death row. They can be found in polite company, and often are. They can be very religious. Their basic problem, the root of their evil, he concluded, was the inability to self-analyze (I guess kind of like denial). Don't we all struggle with this to some degree? So hard to say 3 words: "I was wrong."

So with regard to the church, I think that's where I'm coming from. We can't hear our critics. We tend to create a kind of white noise of denial that insulates us from listening to critics.

The evolution debate, it occurs to me, is patently ridiculous from the creationist viewpoint. The debate is ridiculous. The secularists are right. It has nothing to do with religion or biblical revelation. It's just what's there. But evolution does not of itself exclude the possibility of God.

Joanne said...

I did not witness vortex swirls in video clip. Evenso...thanks be to God for the vortex swirls to give the bumble bee flight!