The History of Debates about Evolution and Bees

Continuing the discussion from Bees and Orphan Genes:

Speaking of bees, there is a very interesting history of debate, stretching back 200 years. Thinking about honeycombs:


For natural theologians, who looked on nature as showing the workings of providence, the bee cell was a favourite subject. The question of how little insects could solve correctly a design problem that challenged even expert human geometers, and implement it practically, pointed, they thought, to a governing intelligence

Darwin made notes for their discussion in a memorandum to W. H. Miller, [15 April 1858], summarising his position as follows:

Bees can make apparently true cylinders & spheres. (2) They never begin one cell at time always several (3) they can judge distance to certain extent, & (4) those that make their spheres or cylinders so that if completed, would intersect make an intermediate flat wall. Then assume perfect judge of distance, I thought that all angles might follow, for I cd see they would in hexagonal prism.–— My notion modification of Waterhouses. Ld. Brougham sneers at it.

And then comes the hypothesis test:

Darwin quickly arranged to look at Tegetmeier’s piece of honeycomb (letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, [21 April 1858]); however, it had been mislaid. Nevertheless, Darwin asked Tegetmeier to keep an eye out for the first beginnings of the comb (letter to W. B. Tegetmeier, 9 May [1858]). He suspected that the first cells, built without the constraints of neighbouring cells, would not be hexagonal.

This is really a brilliant article. Have you seen this history yet @TedDavis? Sadly, no author noted!