Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ant Odometers and Evolution

By Douglas V. Gibbs

I never thought that the Tunisian Desert Ant would encourage me to think about math.

Math was never my favorite subject when I was a young man, and ants were hardly something I spent much time thinking of either. In fact, when it came to mathematics, I used to tell people it was my worst subject in school. The assumption by those people hearing this, naturally, was that I did poorly in math. In the beginning, that assumption was accurate. Sometimes I did do poorly in math. In the lower grades I struggled greatly with the subject - but not with the concepts, but with the task of completing homework assignments. Not doing my homework, then, meant I was not doing the work that would have encouraged the "how to" angle in regards to calculations to click in my brain, which meant I was not learning the material. One can only digest so much calculative abilities from a short period in class, listening to a lecturing teacher that was usually drier than Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

I loved school. As an avid reader and writer, classes came easy to me. Read the text book, write a few papers, charm the teacher, get a good grade. Math did not work that way for me, however. Time alone with one's brain is an integral part of learning the material, and sometimes I did spend that time alone with my gray matter, a pencil, and a marked up sheet of paper. But I did not like math, nonetheless. Understand, I did not dislike math because I was no good at mathematics - but because I was so good in language arts.

Advanced readers naturally carry an aversion to math. I gravitated toward the subjects that I could use my reading and writing skills in. That meant anything, and everything, that required writing papers, and reading textbooks, none of which included math.

I didn't like math because of the work involved. Who wants to take the time to work hard on math when everything else came so easily? Algebra and Geometry, for example, was not overly difficult. I was the first in class to figure out how to do proofs in Geometry class. I got better than average grades in math (once I got old enough to realize the impact homework had on my grade). My biggest failure, in those classes, however, was turning in my work on time, or keeping my attention on the teacher during class time. Besides, I figured, numbers had nothing to do with what I would do as an adult. I deceived myself into believing that, and I later learned that I was wrong.

While in high school I was considering becoming a corporate lawyer, or a stenographer, after I reached adulthood. I loved to write, and journalism was my true love, but law is where the money was.

Since when do corporate lawyers need math skills?

My collegiate career has been spotty. I have earned my education in bits and pieces, slices and dices. Rather than become a full-time college man, I became a Navy Sailor. My goal of going into the world of corporate law gave way to the high seas, and later I became a banker, and a financial adviser. College was something I relegated to the evenings.

Life has a funny way of changing things, however, and the decisions I made led me to working for a city, being a construction worker, and now a truck driver.

Talk about a Butterfly Effect.

Turns out that I am exceptional in math. When in the construction industry I found it fairly easy to convert whole numbers to inches, and figure out slopes, angles, and how to lay a house out based on the blue print's various figures. It took work, and performing these tasks were not nearly as easy as writing an article, but it could be done, and I moved up quickly because of my ability to comprehend the numbers in my life.

As math grabbed a hold of me, I began to discover books by various authors on the subject. Being an avid reader, reading about numbers seemed the logical way to become more familiar with the school subject that tortured me so much when I was younger.

It was through Clifford A. Pickover that I truly began to understand fractals - the recurring patterns, and how they fit in with the universe. Pickover's latest book, however, of which I coincidentally got to hear about on Coast to Coast AM this morning, is the most interesting of all of them.

The title of the book is "The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics."

Clifford is a classic mathematician. He sees patterns in everything he looks at, and thinks in logical ways that the average person would scratch their head about. Some could call a man like Clifford obsessed. Whatever he is, his research is impeccable.

I am not real keen on his thoughts about extra-terrestrial life, and I have a supernatural theory regarding such things. The use of numbers to try to explain the existence of life in the universe, however, if very fascinating, and I enjoyed reading his conclusions.

One of the topics in the book, of which he also touched on this morning on the radio, that I found great interest in is how ant brains have built-in odometers. Not in the sense of mileage, mind you, but they count how many steps they take so that they can easily find their way back to the nest.

The average ant, you may be aware, uses scent trails. But in the Sahara, where the ground is hot, and the sand is constantly moving and shifting, scent trails don't work so well. Yet, the Tunisian Desert Ants find their way back to their nests quite easily.

Science, being inquisitive in nature, begs to ask the question, "How?"

Enter onto the scene the mathematicians.

Researchers came up with the idea that maybe the ants were counting their steps. To prove this, they placed little stilts on the legs of the ants, and found that they would over-shoot their nests. When clipping the ant's legs shorter, the ants came up short in their search for home. Based on those results, it is quite clear that inside the ant is a little odometer, counting its steps one by one.

How is it that ants can count endlessly with next to nothing for brains, but an ape can't get past seven?

I am skeptical that random mutation and natural selection could account for such a complex mathematical tendency in such a simple creature. Of course this opinion arises from my significant skepticism towards Darwinian theory. But in addition to my assessment that there is a Creator, and that there is persuasive affirmative evidence in favor of that opinion, I question if Darwinian theory could even explain how such an amazing ability in ants came into being.

One has to remember that evolution is not merely "change over time." If that was the case, then it would be a shoe-in, and evolution would no longer be a theory. Of course species adjust and adapt over time. Single species are related through a family tree of descent through modification. For example, my dogs probably have a common ancestor. Reproduction, on its own, can cause such modifications in species that lead to different sub-species. Darwinism, however, claims that all species have a common ancestor somewhere down the line of millions, or billions, of years. Most modern Darwinism advocates support that the evolution, or changes, in a species result from natural selection acting on random genetic mutations.

Could ants, through generations upon generations of creepy crawlers, have developed the ability to use math to count their steps through mere random genetic mutations?

First, we have to consider that the idea of gradual divergence from a common ancestor, in regards to the theory of evolution, is already down for the count. Looking back at fossil records, major groups of animals appear suddenly, fully developed. The rapid appearance of fully developed species is called the "Cambrian Explosion." Scientists theorize that the Cambrian geological period occurred a little more than 500 million years ago, and during that period a biological big bang suddenly appeared, giving rise to most of the major animal phyla groups that are still alive today. This, to Darwinist's dismay, shows that Darwin's Tree of Life is a dismal failure.

With that in mind, considering that something as complex as the ability for an insect to count its steps to be the result of a random genetic mutation, is difficult to swallow. In fact, considering the likelihood that without the mathematical trait of a built-in odometer, ants in conditions where scent trails would not work would survive without another way to find their nest, leads one to believe that the unique ability did not develop, but was present from the beginning.

Could such a complex ability in such a simple creature be present without some kind of intelligent interference?

Obviously, there is room for limited evolutionary processes. But for evolution to account for everything, especially when considering the Cambrian Explosion, is too far-fetched, and takes much more faith to believe in than the possibility that there was an intelligent designer.

Some folks, right about now, are thinking that I am being simply preposterous in my assumption that science and the Christian Faith belong in the same article. What you don't realize, however, is that scientific (and mathematical) evidence, such as in the case of ant odometers, provides a robust supporting argument for the existence of a Creator. As with the Big Bang, which proclaims the universe had a beginning (thus, contradicting former beliefs by science that the universe had no beginning), the fact that the simple mind of an ant can accomplish the complex feat of using mathematics to find its way home screams in favor of a Creator, and points directly towards the existence of God.

Like the circuitry inside simple cells, the ant odometer defies explanation when applied to Darwinian's theory of natural selection. The complexity could not possibly have formed randomly. Based on necessity, the ability had to have been present from the onset. Darwin's theory does not allow for sudden leaps, yet like the Cambrian explosion, the ability for ants to find home must have been present from the very beginning. If it hadn't been, the species would have never survived. From a mathematical position, it comes down to odds, and the odds of survival before such an ability could appear through the random chances of evolution are slim, and none.

Complexity like this cannot evolve. The ant needs the ability to count steps to survive. Without the ability the species does not survive. If the species could not survive without the ability, then how could it evolve? With the time it would take for such an ability to develop, the species would be extinct before the development would have a chance to complete its journey.

In short, the very existence of the ant odometer is evidence of a Creator.

Darwinists don't like this kind of pipe wrench thrown into their anti-God agenda. They are troubled when people like me try to reveal an intersection between science and faith. They somehow believe that science and a belief in God should be at constant war with each other. Those that agree with Darwin, in fact, are at this moment developing an argument against what I have written about ant odometers because the very thought of a Creator having his hand in science drives them insane.

You can count on it.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

Secrets of Math - Coast To Coast AM

The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics - Amazon

Pickover dot com

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