Dragonflies Demonstrate Design!

Amazing Animals (Part 1 of 7)

by Calvin Smith on April 12, 2021
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I’ve always been an animal lover. Ever since I was a kid, I would always be looking under random pieces of wood and rocks to see what I could find peeking back at me. My Mom was very patient with my curiosity, as the severe bout of asthma I experienced as an infant kept us from getting a typical pet, such as a dog or cat (until I’d outgrown it years later). And many a random reptile found its way into our house over the years.

Her limit was reached, however, the day she arrived home to find the bottom level of her glass bookcase completely transformed into a terrarium of sorts, housing the dozen or so “red-bellies” (snakes), as I called them, that I’d found earlier in the day.

To date, I’ve had snakes, frogs, salamanders, turtles, several dogs and cats, a horse, a donkey, a monkey, a variety of fish, and an octopus as pets. I don’t really know what’s in store next (as my wife always seemed nervous whenever I mentioned getting a tarantula). But I know that I always feel tremendous joy when I look at the fantastic array of amazing animals the Lord has created.

Creation Reveals the Creator

Scripture speaks to the fact that God’s creation reveals that man is accountable to his Creator.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

And even though landscapes can be beautiful and awe-inspiring, all of God’s creatures emphasize that truth even more.

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? (Job 12:7–9)

The truth of God’s Word is simple to understand. A painting requires a painter. A creation requires a creator. And design requires a designer. And we do find incredible examples of design in nature, such as in the majestic movement of the horse, the spectacular strength of an enormous elephant, or the beautiful coloring embedded in a preening peacock. However, on a biomechanical level, even the so-called “simplest” of God’s creatures reveals magnificent biological “technology” that grants them astonishing abilities so far beyond our capability to create that scientists freely admit their envy.

The Dragonfly’s Dynamic “Driving”

Take, for example, the modest dragonfly. One of my favorite spots alongside the shadiest side of our home is chock full of ferns, and during the summertime, it hosts a bevy of beautiful dragonflies that burst forth whenever I mow that laneway. Not only do I enjoy the beautiful color and movement, but I take comfort in knowing they are constantly depopulating the regiment of mosquitoes that fill the night air.

Despite my fascination with them, I understand most people wouldn’t give these multi-winged warriors of the insect world more than a passing glance. However, dragonflies are incredible creatures and are the world's fastest insects (capable of reaching speeds of up to 35 mph). That’s a lot of horsepower generated from a creature that weighs 800 milligrams (on average)!

Not simply speedy, they’re amazing fliers with two sets of wings. This enables them to perform truly marvelous maneuvers, such as travelling straight up, down, or backwards, flying upside-down, and hovering in place. They are able to negotiate winds up to 30 mph and can tolerate accelerations up to 9-Gs. Dragonflies have nearly 360-degree vision and can carry quite a bit of weight for their little size, with one researcher1 estimating an ability to carry one-third of its weight without impeding its ability to fly and hunt.

They Never Saw It Coming

Engineers have long recognized and tried to mimic their incredible aeronautic capabilities. So spectacular are their flight abilities that a drone with wings modeled after theirs has been created.2 But it seems that dragonflies have even more to offer, as they have a unique and complex stalking system that often fools their prey, called motion camouflage.

Unlike simply mimicking a background, motion camouflage is a dynamic form of disguise by which a predator can approach its prey while appearing to remain stationary—from the target’s perspective. As the journal Nature describes it,

Motion camouflage can be achieved if one animal (the shadower) moves in such a way as to produce the same image motion on the retina of another animal (the shadowee) as would a stationary object in the environment.3

So, a dragonfly moves with the prey’s perspective to give the illusion that it is not being stalked, and by the time the prey finally realizes it is being hunted, it’s lunch! And so sophisticated and effective is this tactic that engineers are now using the same concept to design motion camouflage military missiles as they advance toward an intended target. Just look at the way in which the diminutive dragonfly is gushed over by these fans of military intelligence:

Dragonflies overshadow their enemies in complex maneuvers that military fighter pilots can only dream of . . . It demands exquisite position sensing and control.

This sort of performance is extremely hard to achieve without very expensive and bulky measurement systems.4

It’s true! When you consider the tiny size of a Dragonfly’s body and brain compared to its computational and physical capability, it is truly astonishing what they can do. Our brightest engineers on the planet haven’t even come close to creating machines and computers that can perform a fraction of their abilities (and many of our actual designs come from mimicking what we see in nature anyway and so aren’t truly new). And should someone invent something even remotely close to it, the scientific community would likely shower them with accolades and praise them for their incredible genius.

And the fact that these aren’t “learned” traits (the average dragonfly only lives for six months), but rather are programmed from birth, begs the question: Where do all of these amazing design features and ingenious biological programming come from in the first place?

Do You Mind, or No Mind?

Understanding that there are PhD scientists (such as Professor Dennis Paulson, who’s dedicated a good portion of his life to studying dragonflies) who know much more about them than we ever will, what would be a logical answer to that question? Based on what we’ve just briefly discussed, would it not be objectively logical to conclude dragonflies exhibit all of the attributes one would expect to find as the result of the effort of a master Designer? I think so!

And yet, in almost every book (including Paulson’s definitive picture book compilation on dragonflies5), documentary, and internet search, dragonflies are explained through a naturalistic, evolutionary lens that says they are the outcome of random chance with no mind (or God) required. But logically, wouldn’t that mean they’re saying that a “no-mind” process is more brilliant than the most intelligent people we can muster on the planet: that “no intelligence” can create far superior designs than the most intelligent among us can currently pull off? Apparently so, according to evolutionary storytelling:

We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened.6

It makes you wonder why there should be any emphasis on education whatsoever if non-intelligence has a superior ability to craft such brilliant designs!

Immunized Against God from a Young Age

Why is it then that so many of our young people in the West (just like me growing up) declare a lack of belief in God when the evidence for him is so apparent in nature? Easy: it’s because we have a secularized education system teaching naturalistic explanations for everything, and most of our children are placed in it from kindergarten through senior high. And this “education” constantly reinforces an anti-God, evolutionary story that undermines the whole concept of creation.

Combine that with the typical children’s entertainment programming being pumped out 24–7, 365 days a year, that contains similar messaging. It’s no wonder that most 13-year-olds raised in the average Christian home have serious doubts about the Bible, let alone the average non-believers. As stated in a popular atheistic magazine way back in 1976,

I think that the most important factor moving us toward a secular society has been the educational factor. Our schools may not teach Johnny to read properly, but the fact that Johnny is in school until he is sixteen tends to lead toward the elimination of religious superstition.7

Time to Fight Back

Are you tired of the gas-lighting by secularists who claim to have the “higher ground” intellectually when discussing our origins? Are you fed up with the nonsensical, sinful, and shameful results we see brought about by the acceptance of the humanistic worldview in culture today? As a society in the West, we have been pummeled intellectually, literally shamed, and bullied into believing the ridiculous story of evolution vs. the logical conclusion that there is an all-loving creator God who has revealed himself through his creation and that his amazing creatures testify to his greatness! It’s time to fight back.

Over the next several weeks, I want to show you more incredible examples of God’s amazing animals and give you some practical questions you can ask those around you to wake them out of the naturalistic stupor so many have fallen into. Stay tuned!

This week’s question: Is it more logical to think that a “no mind” process could create better engineering designs than the most brilliant minds on the planet?

Footnotes

  1. Richard Merritt, “Tracking Dragonflies on the Wing,” Duke, Pratt School of Engineering, November 14, 2011, https://pratt.duke.edu/about/news/tracking-dragonflies-wing.
  2. Tim Wright, “Flap Like a Dragonfly, Bio-mimicry makes drones better,” Air & Space Magazine, JUNE 27, 2017, https://www.airspacemag.com/daily-planet/cause-it-sees-you-180963817/.
  3. “Motion Camouflage in Dragonflies,” Nature 423 (2003): 604, https://www.nature.com/articles/423604a.pdf.
  4. “How stealthy insects outsmart their foe,” New Scientist, June 7, 2003, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17823983-400-how-stealthy-insects-outsmart-their-foe/.
  5. Dennis Paulson, Dragonflies and Damselflies: A Natural History (London: Ivy Press, 2019). (A lavishly illustrated introduction to the world's dragonflies and damselflies.)
  6. “Artificial life likely in 3 to 10 years,” Associated Press, August 20, 2007.
  7. Paul Blanshard, “Three Cheers for Our Secular State,” The Humanist, March/April 1976.

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