The bee and the postman
Posted on homepage: 31 October 2011 (GMT+10)
Question: How is a bee like a postman?
To answer that question, we need to look at what they both do. First, let’s consider the postman.
A sender has information he wants to communicate to a recipient, so he puts his information in a letter, addresses the envelope, and puts it in the letterbox. The postman delivers the letter to the recipient’s address. The recipient reads the letter and responds according to its contents. Simple! The postman cares nothing for either sender or receiver, and knows nothing of the contents of the letter, but he was essential to the process—he delivered information.
What does a bee do? She collects pollen from a flower, and delivers it to another flower. The pollen grain contains information about how to grow a new plant. The receiving flower responds to the contents of the information by combining it with some of its own information, and then producing seed which can grow into a new plant and produce new flowers to repeat the process. Just like the postman, the bee has delivered information. Simple!
But is it really so simple? If we examine this process more carefully, we find it raises some profound questions which need answering if we are to understand our world. The questions concern information.
In the case of the letter, we know that the message began with thoughts in the mind of an intelligent being. (Information always begins that way.) That being (person) had an intention (to inform the recipient), and expected a response in the form of some action (such as paying a bill, or turning up to the party). He formed his information into a code (which we call language) which he knew his recipient would understand because of the agreed conventions of the code (that is, they speak the same language). He then converted the language in his mind into a physical form—in this case ink on paper, though he could have used an electronic binary code and sent it by email, or he could have used a sonic code and used the telephone. The code and its physical form don’t matter—only the information. The postman carried the physical form of the information to the recipient, who then had to decode the information so he could respond.
This is no simple process, and it is clear that it involves more than pure matter to accomplish. The letter is not the information, but only contains information in a coded, physical form. It is vital that we recognize that the information did not arise from any physical process or property of matter, but from a mind, and that the information is only realized (“made real” at the end of the process) in the form of a response, an action. Until that action occurs, we have no evidence that information actually existed, because the letter could quite easily have contained only random sequences of ink marks without meaning.
What about the bee and the pollen? Did the first flower (the sender) have a mind to envisage the information in an abstract form? Did it have an intention to inform the other flower how to reproduce itself? Did it have the intelligence to formulate a code? Could it have made arrangements with the other flower about the conventions of the code? It is not hard to recognize that none of these things happened, nor were they possible. The flower could not develop the information or the code. The actual information and code must have been formulated beforehand by an outside intelligence, with the purpose (intention) of having it used by the flower to grow, and to pass it on so the plants could reproduce (that is, use the information to build the next generation of similar plants).
Like the postman, the bee had no idea of the contents of what it was delivering, yet that “envelope”, that tiny fluffy ball of pollen, contained more information than we can imagine, and it was coded in the most compact and efficient form known to mankind—a code of only four chemical “letters”, stored and transmitted on a medium that we call DNA.
So, if the “sender” flower couldn’t provide it, what is the origin of this information for building and maintaining the plants that produced the flowers, and this wonderful code that stores and transmits that information? There are those who believe that the “first self-replicating living form” (that later evolved into a flower) somehow began by accident. They envisage a bunch of proteins, somehow formed by accident and collected together by accident over a long period of time, coming to life by itself in defiance of natural laws, and simultaneously developing this marvelously intricate way of informing another bunch of proteins how to collect together and come to life in the same way. This supposedly happened without any intelligence to formulate a code and without intent or will or self-consciousness or other-awareness or any other attribute of mind.
This is a breathtakingly absurd proposition!
Is there a better proposition to explain the DNA code and all the massive amount of information needed to make all the earth’s creatures (not just this particular flower, or the bee, or even the postman), regulate their life processes, and allow for their reproduction in a new generation? How could it have come about? Obviously not from the chance operations of matter over long periods of time, because all information originates in a mind, so a mind and not mere matter is the first and most important requirement. Because intent and will are also required (intending that things should use the information to live and reproduce), that mind must exist as a person—an extremely intelligent person. Because the code, and the quality and quantity of information, are way beyond our ability to invent, that person must be way beyond our intelligence and power. Because all living things contain some form of this code, the code-maker must have existed before all the living things into which He put the information. Who fits the bill? There is only one realistic candidate: the God of the Bible.
The postman carries information originating in the mind of a person, but the bee carries a message from God!