What is instinct and how did it ‘get into’ animals? Does it operate the same way worldwide in all animals of the same species?
… is defined as an innate (natural) typically fixed pattern of behaviour in animals responding to certain stimuli, an inborn unalterable behaviour pattern characteristic of a species which does not involve reason. The animal will perform a certain behaviour the first time it is exposed to the particular stimulus.
A migratory bird will fly thousands of kilometres over featureless ocean to its far-flung destination never having done so before. At a set time of the year a turtle will return thousands of kilometres to lay her eggs on the beach where she was born. A cat will paw over soil to cover up once it has done its business in the garden.
Humans’ follow instincts too that enhance our ability to cope with vital environmental contingencies such as our innate fear of snakes. Other instincts include denial, revenge, tribal loyalty, greed, flight and urge to procreate.
Pelvic thrusting in the mating/sex act is instinctual both in humans and animals, not needing to be taught.
Learned behaviours are not instinct
They are what animals need in order to survive. The lion cub watches and learns from mum how to stalk and hunt and after practising, from life experiences.
The courtship of the blue-footed booby (bird) consists of the male flaunting his blue feet and dancing to impress the female. During the dance the male will spread his wings and stamp his feet. Is this an inborn ‘skill’ or a learnt behaviour?
Reflex actions are not instinct
Closely tied to (but again different from) instinct is the natural behaviour of reflex: a simple, inborn, automatic response to a stimulus. Reflexes help animals (and humans) respond quickly to a stimulus such as jumping out of the way of a speeding car.
A reflex is a response that always occurs when a certain stimulus is present. A human infant will grasp a finger that is placed in its palm, it having no control over this reaction. Reflex behaviours occur mainly in babies such as the sucking reflex when a nipple is placed in their mouth.
Instincts are examples of innate behaviour. Migrating birds know when to begin their migration and the route they should follow. Other examples are web-making by spiders, nest-building by birds, cocoon-spinning by insects, swimming by dolphins and other aquatic species.
Such behaviours are rigid and predictable. All members of the species perform them the same way, usually involving basic life functions such as finding food or caring for offspring, and are controlled by genes.
From the moment they hatch ducklings know they must follow mum to stay safe, learn and survive. When a bird builds a nest it knows exactly how to build it without having to learn from another bird: everything from the materials it chooses to the manner in which it weaves and even the end shape.
The nest design will be specific to that species such that someone with a field guide to nests will be able to identify the species of bird by observing the nest alone even if the bird is absent. There may be some refinement involved so a more mature bird may build a better nest but all the basics are there the first time round.
Regarding the Aussie mallee fowl: “Just as the eggs hatch inside a huge earth mound and the chicks battle their way out, mum and dad disappear for good. Parent and offspring never meet yet the chicks know just what to do - unless they’re eaten as they emerge. They receive no parental care after hatching and can run, feed themselves and fly within a day.”
What God says
Each of us know someone who has heard it all before but: the message they heard was of no value to them because they did not ‘combine’ it with faith. (Hebrews chapter 4 verse 2). Hearing did not arouse interest leading to inquiry, searching, seeking and finding.
Quoting 700 BC prophet Isaiah, Jesus still says today about some of us that: These peoples’ hearts have become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears and have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see and hear, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. (Matthew chapter 13 verse 15).
God’s opponents: blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like unreasoning animals, creatures of instinct. (2 Peter chapter 2 verse 12).
Such people: slander whatever they do not understand and the very things they do understand by instinct - as irrational animals do - will destroy them. (Jude verse 10).
The apostles foretold that: in the last days there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires…mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. (Jude verses 18/19). As there is no realisation of a connection between cause and effect, between sowing and reaping, they: do not know what makes them stumble. (Proverbs chapter 4 verse 19).
We’re living in those days.
Being intelligent reasoning human beings
…do we really believe that pursuant to some dark unknown unexplainable process operating over billions of years ‘mother nature’ or ‘father evolution’ (code for the barren ideology called atheism) somehow inserted the same instinctive behaviours into the same animals worldwide including the myriad humorous courtship displays of the birds of the world, and to a limited extent even inserted instinctive actions into tiny human babies?
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html