The Giant Asian Hornet, revised Part 1

            The 2009 book Why Evolution Is True by Dr. Jerry A. Coyne…an emeritus professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, is a well-written, interesting, and up-to-date expose in support of Darwinian macroevolution.

            But one of the head-scratching, colossal ironies of our modern times is that when I read this book, by around page 80 and thereafter, his descriptions of the wonders of nature have put forth so much brilliant detail that I begin to sense that he is unwittingly making a cumulative case argument[1]in favor of intelligent agency. 

            Yet as a career-long Darwinian evolutionist, intelligent design through agency acting in the natural world is the very thing he is trying to marshal the facts to disprove.[2]

            So coordinated and integrated are the architectural body-plans and lifestyle habits of living organisms, so well “thought-out” are their instinctual programs for fitness that as our modern understanding of them increases, then the more implausible becomes the purely naturalistic explanations for their conceptual origin and design.

            In other words, the more we learn factually about the natural world through science, the less plausible becomes the gradual, trial-and-error, self-organizing, secular story for the creation of the universe and all of its natural phenomena.

            In this new Age of Information, increasing knowledge is narrowing the worldview choices down to intelligent agency as the only plausible explanation for the origin of the complex, highly specified, and coherently integrated[3] systems of information we now recognize and study, operating everywhere in the natural living and non-living world.

            One example of the paradoxical dilemma for scientific materialists[4] in having to harmonize the marvels of the living world with purely naturalistic causations, absent designing agency, is found in Dr. Coyne’s book of the description of the havoc that is created when the giant Asian hornet (wasp) on its home turf attacks a colony of European honeybees imported by humans into Japan.[5]  

            The giant Asian hornet is the world’s largest wasp…about two inches long, having a three-inch wing-span that can fly 25 miles per hour and travel up to 60 miles a day, and is a predatory wasp especially common in Japan.

            When a lone hornet scout finds a honeybee colony, it marks the beehive with a drop of liquid pheromone scent which then guides a group of 20 to 30 attacking hornets which can decimate in a couple of hours honeybees numbering up to 30,000.

            The giant Asian hornet has large jaws that can bite the heads off the smaller honeybees at the rate of 40 per minute.

            But the native honeybees in Japan have an incredible defense tactic that defies naturalistic explanation.

            These native honeybees send-out an internal alarm within the beehive when they first detect the hornet intruder.  They then quickly form a group of around 100 honeybees at the entrance into the beehive, and when the lone scout first enters through the beehive opening to begin its investigation, these 100 honeybees form a tight cluster around the now immobilized giant Asian hornet. 

            In coordinated unison the honeybees in this cluster all flap their wings, before the giant Asian hornet can mark the beehive with the scented pheromone. 

            This raises the temperature to around 115º F within this cluster, but also produces carbon dioxide (CO²) that further raises the temperature up to as high as 122º F[6]…which is not lethal to the honeybees but kills the giant Asian hornet scout. 

            If the Asian honeybees can immobilize and kill the intruder scout before the beehive is marked with this pheromone, then the chance that the marauding group of attack wasps will stumble by accident upon the beehive is greatly reduced.

            The question can reasonably be asked if the Asian honeybees in and around the beehive out-number the attacking group of wasps 30,000 to 30, why do not small groups of 100 bees break-off and cluster around each wasp for 20 minutes to kill the entire attack-group of wasps using this successful strategy?

            The answer is that we do not know.

            The defense tactic of the Asian honeybees is limited to successfully neutralizing this scout early, before it can mark the beehive, but does not go further to expand this brilliant military defense tactic into a larger theater of warfare.  

            But the recently imported European honeybee colonies lack even this initial defense strategy to kill the roving scout, and are quickly and completely overwhelmed by the marauding band of attacking giant Asian hornets, guided by the pheromone placed at the opening of the beehive by the hornet scout as the result of a successful reconnaissance.

            Leaving aside a narrow or a broad application of this defense strategy, the basic underlying question arises of how the native Asian honeybees could acquire this novel, instinctual defense tactic of a brilliantly functional, coordinated approach of just the right high-temperature of 117-122º F and the accumulation of CO² gas that would kill this insect enemy, but not harm themselves in the process…in the first-place? 

            Using the materialistic mechanism of blind, mindless, accidental, and undirected trial-and-error, this would produce catastrophic honeybee failures along the small-step transitional route of gradual, successive rises in temperature.

            For argument’s sake, if we start with an ambient temperature inside the honeybee’s nest at 100º F, and go upward at 2º F increments over the 16-20 minutes needed to kill the giant Asian hornet scout, this results in 8 failed trials…catastrophic defeats…if the effort at some point of time stops short of the successful goal of 115-117º F (100º, 102º, 104º, 106º, 108º, 110º, 112º, 114º, 115º F).

            This defense mechanism of the Asian honeybee is an all or nothing affair.  Intermediate stages in transition will not work.  Partial function is dysfunction in terms of survival.

            The Asian honeybees do not immediately produce the required lethal temperature to cook the lone scout to death, but time is needed to build-up the temperature within this ball of honeybees flapping their wings to 115-117º F.

            At the trial-and-error test phases thousands or millions of years ago, the Asian honeybees upon reaching the pre-lethal, mid-point of 108º F in their group clustering, would somehow have to “know” through foresight to keep going until they reached the deadly temperature of 115º F. 

            The Asian honeybees would have to know at the very start that this particular defense tactic had a successful end-point outcome to aim for, otherwise they would be going down a fruitless path, amongst a multitude of other possible fruitless paths, to oblivion and extinction.

            Modern information theory tells us that if there are more chances that something can go in the wrong direction than in the right direction, then a positive end-point outcome is more difficult to arrive at.[7]

            My hypothetical example above is divided up into increments of 2º F, but using the measurement of time instead of temperature, 20 minutes x 60 seconds each minute = 1,200 seconds of total time to kill the giant Asian hornet.

            This equates to 1,200 possible wrong choices for the honeybees to quit, to give-up short of killing the lone scout intruder, compared to only one right choice to arrive at the positive outcome of the successful defense of the beehive colony…to persist for the full 20 minutes from start to finish to reach 115-117º F.

            The Asian honeybees could easily have quit after attempting this narrowly specified, defense tactic their first try after 20 seconds, seeing no immediate positive result, the successful outcome being at the end-point of a full 20 minutes of flapping their wings.

            How would honeybees acquire this sensible, life-saving foreknowledge of a positive outcome to aim for?

            Not by accident, and not by random and undirected trial-and-error.

            In this life and death struggle the Asian honeybees only get one crack at pursuing a particular strategy all the way to success.  Quitting early or choosing another strategy through trial-and-error ends in extinction. 

From Pondering Our Creation: Christian Essays on Science and Faith.


[1] Drawing upon facts from several areas to make a convincing argument.

[2] Jerry A. Coyne, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (New York: Penguin Books, 2015).

[3] A phrase coined by William A. Dembski in Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999).

[4] The philosophical worldview that physical matter and energy in the universe are the only realities.

[5] Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution Is True (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 111-113.

[6] Wikipedia.org, Asian giant hornet, updated May 20, 2021.

[7] Canceled Science: Scientific Discoveries Some Atheists Don’t Want You to See, with Eric Hedin, published by Discovery Science on You Tube, April 26, 2022.

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