We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, February 25, 2012

How Come Zebras Have Stripes?

In an article entitled, "How the zebra got its stripes," reporter Emily Sohn describes research done at the University of Lund, Sweden, on the origins of zebra stripes. What the Swedish researchers discovered was that horseflies, which are a serious bother to herd animals such as zebras, are less attracted to black and white zebra stripes than they are to dark skinned animals. In general, the flies are more attracted to dark surfaces than light colored ones, and they are even alightly less attracted to the zebra pattern than to white surfaces. According to the article, "Measurements confirmed that the most polarised surfaces attracted the most insects." So, one reason that zebras have stripes is to keep the biting bugs at bay. There could be other reasons as well, but at least now science has a partial explanation for zebra stripes based on credible (and interesting!) data.

There is no getting around it.  Evolution is incredible.  The creative potential of living cells to "figure out" things like how to frustrate biting flies seems almost boundless.  It is made all the more incredible when we consider that the whole evolutionary process is evidently random.  Zebras have stripes when less fortunate herd animals don't have stripes for no better reason that they do.  Somewhere way back when tens or hundreds of millions of years ago some of their evolutionary ancestors had (maybe) patches of black and white hide, which marginally gave them a reproductive advantage that increased over the ages always favoring those "zebras" that were more zebra-like.

How come God does these things this way?  Why does God favor seemingly random evolutionary development?  Why has God impregnated creation with this kind of potential and set it on its merry way?  Wouldn't it be nice to know!  One thought: as a process, evolution seems to combine both structure and randomness.  It is not chaotic because it produces concrete life forms of various kinds and complex ecosystems for them to live in.  If anything, evolution seems to produce increasingly complex and creative forms of life as time goes on.  But it does so in a random way within the basic rules of how evolution works.  It is a system that is at once controlled and yet uncontrolled.  It has direction but moves forward randomly.  Evolution is at one and the same time constrained and unconstrained, free and yet structured.  There is Law and there is Grace both built into the very nature of reality as we know it.  Law sets boundaries on the random process that graciously gave zebras stripes.  How come?  Ultimately, God only knows.