Fun with Fabre – Karl C. Priest

by / December 2, 2016

When I wrote “Evolutionism Stung by Wasps” I had never heard of Jean-Henri Fabre.  Since then I have discovered that Fabre had a love for insects and also, like me, was a math teacher.

Fabre had a gift of being able to describe his meticulous scientific observations in prose that has brought pleasure to many readers for over one hundred years.  Victor Hugo called Fabre “the Homer of the Insects”.

It was a real thrill for me to find that Fabre also had a distain for Darwinism.  Fabre respected Darwin the man, but never accepted any of Darwin’s imaginations.  Also, this article should demonstrate the fact that the theologically trained Darwin was not in the same league with the scientifically trained Fabre.

FABRE AND DARWINISM

Charles Darwin, in his “Origin of Species” and called Fabre “that inimitable observer.”

Darwin exchanged some letters with Fabre as Darwin struggled with trying to explain instincts in the context of evolution.

On January 31, 1880 Darwin wrote (quoted in part):

I hope that you will permit me to have the satisfaction of thanking you cordially for the lively pleasure which I have derived from reading your book. Never have the wonderful habits of insects been more vividly described, and it is almost as good to read about them as to see them.

I am sorry that you are so strongly opposed to the Descent theory; I have found the searching for the history of each structure or instinct an excellent aid to observation; and wonderful observer as you are, it would suggest new points to you. If I were to write on the evolution of instincts, I could make good use of some of the facts which you give.  (http://www.efabre.net/letter-charles-darwin-jh-fabre-january-31-1880)

Darwin declared his belief that insects have the ability to reason and proposed an experiment of the direction finding ability of insects.  Fabre performed a related experiment.

On January 21st, 1881 Darwin wrote (quoted in part):

Your results appear to me highly important, as they eliminate one means by which animals might perhaps recognise direction; and this, from what has been said about savages, and from our own consciousness, seemed the most probable means. If you think it worth while, you can of course mention my name in relation to this subject.

Should you succeed in eliminating a sense of the magnetic currents of the earth, you would leave the field of investigation quite open. I suppose that even those who still believe that each species was separately created would admit that certain animals possess some sense by which they perceive direction, and which they use instinctively.  (http://www.efabre.net/letter-charles-darwin-jh-fabre-january-21st-1881)

In a letter (parts quoted below) to another scientist, who had studied intelligence in animals, Darwin (April 16, 1881) mentioned Fabre.

I do not know whether you will discuss in your book on the mind of animals any of the more complex and wonderful instincts. It is unsatisfactory work, as there can be no fossilised instincts, and the sole guide is their state in other members of the same order, and mere PROBABILITY. (The caps are in the Internet quote and I assume they were in the original.  Karl) But if you do discuss any (and it will perhaps be expected of you), I should think that you could not select a better case than that of the sand wasps, which paralyse their prey, as formerly described by Fabre, in his wonderful paper in the Annales des Sciences, and since amplified in his admirable Souvenirs.

Whilst reading this latter book, I speculated a little on the subject. Astonishing nonsense is often spoken of the sand wasp’s knowledge of anatomy.

 Now I suppose that the sand wasps originally merely killed their prey by stinging them in many places (see page 129 of Fabre’s Souvenirs, and page 241) on the lower and softest side of the body–and that to sting a certain segment was found by far the most successful method; and was inherited like the tendency of a bulldog to pin the nose of a bull, or of a ferret to bite the cerebellum. It would not be a very great step in advance to prick the ganglion of its prey only slightly, and thus to give its larvae fresh meat instead of old dried meat. Though Fabre insists so strongly on the unvarying character of instinct, yet it is shown that there is some variability, as at pages 176, 177. (http://www.efabre.net/letter-charles-darwin-gj-romanes-april-16-1881)

Fabre detailed his experiments in an article about Mason Bees (see below).  Before we see what would have devastated Darwin, let’s look at some otherobservations Fabre made.

All of Fabre’s observations convinced him that insects did not have the intelligence that Darwin predicted.  After doing experiments with burying beetles Fabre concluded, “He (the beetle) does not think of it because he is devoid of the faculty attributed to him, in order to support its thesis, by the dangerous prodigality of transformism. (The doctrine that living organisms have evolved from previously existing forms of living matter. Wikitionary) Divine reason, sun of the intellect, what a clumsy slap in thy august countenance, when the glorifiers of the animal degrade thee with such dullness!”   (Wonders of Instinct, Chapter VI, “Experiments with Burying Beetles”)

Here are some comments Fabre made about Hunting Wasps.  Bold font is mine.

Before they obtained their allotted portion, so closely restricted and so judiciously selected; before they discovered the precise and almost mathematical point at which the sting must enter to produce a sudden and a lasting immobility; before they learnt how to consume, without incurring the risk of putrefaction, so corpulent a prey: in brief, before they combined these three conditions of success, what did the Scoliae do?

The Darwinian school will reply that they were hesitating, essaying, experimenting. A long series of blind gropings eventually hit upon the most favourable combination, a combination henceforth to be perpetuated by hereditary transmission. The skilful co-ordination between the end and the means was originally the result of an accident.

Chance! A convenient refuge! I shrug my shoulders when I hear it invoked to explain the genesis of an instinct so complex as that of the Scoliae.

To escape falling into this twofold trap, the theorists (i. e. evolutionists.  Karl) will reply that the Scoliae are descended from a precursor, an indeterminate creature, of changeable habits and changing form, modifying itself in accordance with its environment and with the regional and climatic conditions and branching out into races each of which has become a species with the attributes which distinguish it to-day. The precursor is the deus ex machina of evolution. When the difficulty becomes altogether too importunate, quick, a precursor, to fill up the gaps, quick, an imaginary creature, the nebulous plaything of the mind! This is seeking to lighten the darkness with a still deeper obscurity; to illumine the day by piling cloud upon cloud. Precursors are easier to find than sound arguments. Nevertheless, let us put the precursor of the Scoliae to the test.

Then Fabre mocks evolutionists’ attempts to classify animals based upon resemblance.  Bold font is mine.

See how the great master of evolution (i. e. Darwin. Karl) hesitates and stammers when he tries, by fair means or foul, to fit instinct into the mould of his formulae. It is not so easy to handle as the colour of the pelt, the length of the tail, the ear that droops or stands erect. Yes, our master well knows that this is where the shoe pinches! Instinct escapes him and brings his theory crumbling to the ground.

Success, then, is contingent upon a series of conditions, each one of which offers almost no chance of victory, so that the fulfilment of them all becomes a mathematical absurdity if we are to invoke accident alone.

And, in the first place, how was it that the Scolia of antiquity, having to provide rations for her carnivorous family, adopted for her prey only those larvae which, owing to the concentration of their nervous systems, form so remarkable and so rare an exception in the insect order? What chance would hazard offer her of obtaining this prey, the most suitable of all because the most vulnerable? The chance represented by unity compared with the indefinite number of entomological species. The odds are as one to immensity.

These four conditions of success, with chance so near to zero in each case, must all be realized together, or the grub will never be reared.

Who would venture to calculate the final chance on which the future of the Scolia, or of her precursor, is based, that complex chance whose factors are four infinitely improbable occurrences, one might almost say four impossibilities? And such a conjunction is supposed to be a fortuitous result, to which the present instinct is due! Come, come!

To these questions the science now in fashion always has a reply ready: adaptation to environment.

So far so good. But now tell me, if you please, why the larvae of the Oryctes and the Scarabaeus, living in vegetable mould, the larva of the Anoxia, dwelling in the sand, and the larva of the Cockchafer in our cultivated fields have not also acquired the faculty of walking on their backs? In their galleries they follow the chimney-sweep’s methods quite as cleverly as the Cetonia-grub; to move forward they make valiant use of their backs without yet having come to ambling with their bellies in the air. Can they have neglected to accommodate themselves to the demands of their environment? If evolution and environment cause the topsy-turvy progress of the one, I have the right, if words have any meaning whatever, to demand as much of the others, since their organization is so much alike and their mode of life identical.

I have but little respect for theories which, when confronted with two similar cases, are unable to interpret the one without contradicting the other. They make me laugh when they become merely childish.

And there you have it. Any one who refuses to accept the explanation must be very hard to please. I am one of these difficult persons. If it were a dinner-table jest, made over the walnuts and the wine, I would willingly sing ditto; but alas and alack, it is uttered without a smile, in a solemn and magisterial manner, as the last word in science!

Enough of childish nonsense. The Cetonia-grub walks on its back because it has always done so. The environment does not make the animal; it is the animal that is made for the environment.  (Chapter 5 More Hunting Wasps)

Fabre wanted to make sure that readers understood how he felt about evolutionism.  He titled Chapter 8 “A Dig at the Evolutionists”

Very well; but then my confidence in this natural history which repudiates nature and gives ideal conceptions precedence over real facts is shaken. So, without seeking the opportunity, which is not my business, I take it when it presents itself; I examine the theory of evolution from every side; and, as that which I have been assured is the majestic dome of a monument capable of defying the ages appears to me to be no more than a bladder, I irreverently dig my pin into it.

Let us now return to our insects. If I am to believe the evolutionists, the various game-hunting Wasps are descended from a small number of types, which are themselves derived, by an incalculable number of concatenations, from a few amoebae, a few monera and lastly from the first clot of protoplasm which was casually condensed. Let us not go back as far as that; let us not plunge into the fogs where illusion and error too easily find a lurking-place. Let us consider a subject with exact limits to it; this is the only way to understand one another.

He felt that the wasp’s very specific prey clearly demonstrated that evolution was stupid.

Every attempt led to the invention of a new dish, an important event, according to the masters (i. e. evolutionists. Karl), an inestimable resource for the family, who were thereby delivered from the menace of death and enabled to thrive over large areas whence the absence or rarity of a uniform game would have excluded it. And, after making use of a host of different viands in order to attain the culinary variety which is to-day adopted by the whole of the Sphex nation, lo and behold, each species confines itself to a single sort of game, outside which every specimen is obstinately refused, not at table, of course, but in the hunting-field! By your experiments, from age to age, to have discovered variety in diet; to have practised it, to the great advantage of your race, and to end up with uniformity, the cause of decadence; to have known the excellent and to repudiate it for the middling: oh, my Sphex-wasps, it would be stupid if the theory of evolution were correct!

To avoid insulting you and also from respect for common sense, I prefer therefore to believe that, if in our days you confine your hunting to a single kind of game, it is because you have never known any other. I prefer to believe that your common ancestress, your precursor, whether her tastes were simple or complex, is a pure chimera, for, if they were any relationship between you, having tested everything in order to arrive at the actual food of each species, having eaten everything and found it grateful to the stomach, you would now, from first to last, be unprejudiced consumers, omnivorous progressives. I prefer to believe, in short, that the theory of evolution is powerless to explain your diet. (Chapter 5 More Hunting Wasps)

Chapter 11 finds Fabre still stinging Darwinists.

Nowhere do I find a more brilliant, more lucid, more eloquent proof of the intuitive wisdom of instinct; nowhere does the theory of evolution suffer a more obstinate check.

The next comment is both sad and satisfying to creationists.

Darwin, a true judge, made no mistake about it. He greatly dreaded the problem of the instincts. My first results in particular left him very anxious. If he had known the tactics of the Hairy Ammophila, the Mantis-hunting Tachytes, the Bee-eating Philanthus, the Calicurgi and other marauders, his anxiety, I believe, would have ended in a frank admission that he was unable to squeeze instinct into the mould of his formula. Alas, the philosopher of Down quitted this world when the discussion, with experiments to support it, had barely begun: a method superior to any argument! The little that I had published at that time left him with still some hope of an explanation. In his eyes, instinct was always an acquired habit. The predatory Wasps killed their prey at first by stabbing it at random, here and there, in the softest parts. By degrees they found the spot where the sting was most effectual; and the habit once formed became a true instinct. Transitions from one method of operation to the other, intermediary changes, sufficed to bolster up these sweeping assertions. In a letter of the 16th of April, 1881, he (Darwin. Karl) asks G.J. Romanes to consider the problem:

Now, Fabre rhetorically addresses the late Darwin.

I thank you, O illustrious master, for your eulogistic expressions, proving the keen interest which you took in my studies of instinct, no ungrateful task — far from it — when we tackle it as it should be tackled: from the front, with the aid of facts, and not from the flank, with the aid of arguments.

And then, to suppose the impossible: a Wasp discovers by chance the operative method which will be the saving attribute of her race. How are we to admit that this fortuitous act, to which the mother has vouchsafed no more attention than to her other less fortunate attempts, could leave a profound trace behind it and be faithfully transmitted by heredity? Is it not going beyond reason, going beyond the little that is known to us as certain, if we grant to atavism this strange power, of which our present world knows no instance? There is a good deal to be said for this point of view, my revered master! But, once more, arguments are here out of place; there is room only for facts, of which I will resume the recital.  (Chapter 11 More Hunting Wasps)(http://www.e-fabre.com/en/virtual_library/more_hunting_wasp/contents.htm)

How, let’s return to the experiment that Darwin originally requested Fabre to undertake.  The following quotes are from Chapter 4 of The Mason Bees.  Again, the bold font is mine.

This chapter was to have taken the form of a letter addressed to Charles Darwin, the illustrious naturalist who now lies buried beside Newton in Westminster Abbey. It was my task to report to him the result of some experiments which he had suggested to me in the course of our correspondence: a very pleasant task, for, though facts, as I see them, disincline me to accept his theories, I have none the less the deepest veneration for his noble character and his scientific honesty. I was drafting my letter when the sad news reached me: Darwin was dead; after searching the mighty question of origins, he was now grappling with the last and darkest problem of the hereafter.  (http://www.e-fabre.com/en/virtual_library/mason-bees/contents.htm

FABRE’S BIOGRAPHY

Fabre wrote twenty volumes entitled Souvenirs Entomologiques.  (Entomological Memories) and I encourage you to read any of these which are now available as chapters in books such as Fabre’s Book of Insects (paperback, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 1998).

A 1913 New York Times review of Fabre’s biography, Poet of Science referred to Fabre as that “entomologist by the Grace of God”.  The words within the quotation marks are in the original review so I am unsure who used that reference.  The reviewer stated that many feel that Fabre will stand beside Darwin and Lamarch in the world of science, but stands alone as a poet who was able to translate scientific truth beautifully.  I think that Fabre and his facts diminished, into insignificance (scientifically speaking) Darwinists and their fantasies.  The fact that Darwin is, today, a more prominent figure is simply due to man’s desire to get rid of God.  Propaganda and authority has pushed Fabre to the rear in “scientific” popularity.

Of special interest to me is this statement in the review: “Darwin and Fabre clashed squarely.  Even when the hue and cry favored Darwinism, Fabre steadily refused to assent to the popular doctrine…”

While Fabre was still living Dr. G. V. LeGros wrote a biography (Fabre-Poet of Science ca 1911 http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext02/fbrps10.txt) and described the lifelong poverty and lack of appreciation Fabre faced.  The author appears to be a theistic evolutionist if not an evolutionist, yet he did an adequate job in revealing how Fabre felt about evolution.  There are several examples, but I will use only part of them and allow them to speak for themselves.

The facts I have provided above and the biographer’s statements should force evolutionists to admit that Fabre was an ardent opponent of evolutionism.

LeGros wrote while Fabre was still living (bold is mine).

He feels that life has secrets which our minds are powerless to probe, and that ‘human knowledge will be erased from the archives of the world before we know the last word concerning the smallest fly.’ This is why he was regarded as “suspect” by the company of official scientists, to whom he was a dissenter, almost a traitor, especially at a moment when the theories of evolution, then in the first flush of their novelty, were everywhere the cause of a general elation.

No one as yet was capable of divining the man of the future in this modest thinker who would not accept the word of the masters interested, but in opposing the theory of transformation (i. e. evolutionism  Karl), far from being reactionary, Fabre revealed himself, at least in the domain of animal psychology, as an innovator, a true precursor. To the ingenious mechanism invented by the transformists (i. e. evolutionists  Karl) he preferred to oppose, not contrary argument, but the naked undeniable fact, the obvious testimony, the certain and irrefragable example. In one of his admirable little textbooks, intended to teach and to popularize science, he complacently enumerates the happy modifications effected by that “sublime magician,” selection as understood by Darwin. It is not only to the curiosity and for the amusement of entomologists that he proposes these curious anatomical problems, but also, and chiefly, to the Darwinian wisdom of the evolutionists. Darwin knew barely the tenth part of the colossal work of Fabre. (Fabre also mastered painting with water colors, was a poet and song composer, had extensive botanical knowledge, studied other creature besides insects, registered three patents, wrote at least four textbooks, had excellent knowledge of chemistry, attained a Doctor of Science degree, and was a professor of physics—just to name a few of his achievements.  Darwin could not compare to Fabre as an intellect and scientist.  Karl)

Fabre never ceased to multiply his pin-pricks in “the vast and luminous balloon of transformism (evolution), in order to empty it and expose it in all its inanity.”

’To seek the truth is my only preoccupation. If some are dissatisfied with the result of my observations–if their pet theories are damaged thereby–let them do the work themselves, to see whether the facts tell another story. My problem cannot be solved by polemics; patient study alone can throw a little light on the subject.’

Living always with his eyes upon some secret of the marvels of God, whom he sees in every bush, in every tree, “although He is veiled from our imperfect senses”, the vilest insect reveals to him, in the least of its actions, a fragment of this universal Intelligence.”

Fabre fell more and more into a state bordering on indigence, and finally he was quite forgotten. An opponent of evolution, he was out of the fashion. The encyclopaedias barely mentioned him. Lamarckians and Darwinians, who still made so much noise in the world, ignored him; and no one came now to open the gate behind which was ageing, in obscurity and deserted, “one of the loftiest and purest geniuses which the civilized world at that moment possessed; one of the most learned naturalists and one of the most marvelous of poets in the modern and truly legitimate sense of the word.

In describing Fabre’s religious beliefs the biographer concluded with, And as he has always set the pleasures of study before all others, he can imagine no greater recompense after death than to obtain from heaven permission still to continue in their midst, during eternity, his life of labour and effort.

Fabre died in 1915 and in 1921 Augustin Fabre (exact relationship unknown) wrote a biography entitled The Life of Jean Henri Fabre, the Entomologist.

(http://www.archive.org/stream/lifeofjeanhenrif00fabr/lifeofjeanhenrif00fabr_djvu.txt)

Augustin Fabre provides a more intimate look into Jean-Henri Fabre’s life.

There are two unequivocal quotes (in Augustin’s book) regarding Fabre’s view of evolutionism and  Fabre’s feelings about God. Regarding evolutionism:  Fabre denies “by the light of the facts” almost all the ideas which evolution invokes to explain the formation of species. (Revue des Deux Mondes, p. 891)  He says: “The facts as I see them lead me away from Darwin’s theories. Whenever I try to apply selection to the facts observed, it leaves me whirling in the void. It is majestic, but sterile: evolution asserts as regards the past; it asserts as regards the future; but it tells us as little as possible about the present. Of the three terms of duration one only escapes it, and that is the very one which is free from the fantastic imaginings of hypothesis.”  About God:  Without Him I understand nothing; without Him all is darkness…. Every period has its manias. I regard Atheism as a mania. It is the malady of the age. You could take my skin from me more easily than my faith in God.  Jean-Henri Fabre did not even think it possible (for) human knowledge to learn — ” the last word concerning a gnat.” I look forward to someday call Professor Fabre my friend and be able to join him in learning more about God’s great insects.

That will be fun!


Children will enjoy Muffin Stories – Jean-Henri Fabre (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELs9niqxeyo)

Thanks to Tom Dykstra for the following sources of Fabre’s books:

http://www.infocobuild.com/books-and-films/nature/life-and-works-of-jean-henri-fabre.html http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Fabre%2C%20Jean-Henri%2C%201823-1915 http://www.efabre.net/e-fabre.htm https://archive.org/search.php?query=fabre%2C%20jean%20henri http://bugs.adrianthysse.com/2013/02/free-ebooks-by-jean-henri-fabre/ http://manybooks.net/authors/fabrejea.html

The following two tabs change content below.
Karl Priest has over 35 years of experience as an educator mostly as a mathematics teacher. He has worked with students from grades K through 9 including four years as a principal. He is a strong supporter of home and Christian schools. While in the Navy Karl accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior in November of 1968. God led Karl into several different areas of ministry one of which is using his insect collection to proclaim Christ as the creator. You can see Karl’s testimony on the Internet at www.insecman.us.

Latest posts by Karl Priest (see all)

Your Commment

Email (will not be published)