Anonymous | published Aug, 1848

added May 25, 2024
cover Image
First Date of Publication
Aug, 1848
Original Source
The Youth's Companion
Additional Publication Information
Published on Aug 10, 1848
Original Source Type
Short Story
Original Language
Kasman Review
Not in ISFDB
Summary: A short story which makes the Argument-from-Design by pointing out the mathematical principles used by bees in their hives.

Story Tag Line: “Do you know,” said Mr. Hurlbut, “ that these cells are constructed on exact mathematical principles ?” “Do bees understand mathematics ?” said Isaac. “I can’t say that I think they do; still their work is in accordance with mathematical principles.”


  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    A simple one-page story written to convey the standard “Argument from Design” championed by William Paley, by articulating how the intricate hives constructed by bees follow mathematical principles, and concluding from that there must be a Designer God capable of designing bees who can instinctively follow mathematics.

    Mr. Harvey ran an apiary and was well-versed with the bees and the bees, so to speak… One evening, over dinner, he and his 3 children had a brief discussion and some work related to maintenance of bees and the hives. The next day, Mr. Harvey’s young son, Issac, brought in a piece of the honeycomb which had fallen down from the prior day’s work. As Mr. Harvey started explaining to his children what the bees would have done with that fallen comb-piece, Mr. Harlbut, a teacher at “The Academy” made his appearance:

    “ At this moment, Mr. Hurlbut, the teacher of the Academy, came up, and took the piece of comb in his hand. “ What a curious piece of workmanship!” said he.

    “ Very,” said Isaac.

    “ Do you know,” said Mr. Hurlbut, “that these cells are constructed on exact mathematical principles ?”

    “ Do bees understand mathematics ?” said Isaac.

    “ I can’t say that I think they do; still their work is in accordance with mathematical principles. Sir Isaac Newton undertook to determine in what way a number of vessels could be constructed so as, without leaving any vacant space, they should have the greatest strength. The result of his mathematical investigation was, that cells just such as the bee constructs have the greatest strength and capacity. It was not then known that the cells of the bee conformed to those principles ; that was a subsequent discovery.”

    “ How do you explain it, sir ? Bees surely do not study mathematics.”

    “ I suppose they are guided by instinct in their work.”

    “ There is one thing connected with this subject,” said Isaac’s Father, “ which I should like to have explained. When we look on the works of nature, and see contrivance,—when we see manifest marks of design, we infer a designer. This is the way in which we prove the existence of God from the light of nature.”

    “ Certainly.”

    “ Well, now there is every mark of design in the honeycomb, and yet it does not prove the existence of a designing author. You confess that the bee does not act from design. Now if the marks of design in the comb of the bee, does not prove a designer, how do the marks of design all around us in nature, prove a designer?”

    “Suppose,” said Mr. Hurlbut, “I should show you some intricate mathematical calculations in figures, and you find that they are all correct Should you not say that it proved the existence of a mathematician”

    “ Certainly.”

    “Suppose then, I show you that the calculations were the work of a machine, such a one as was constructed by Mr. Babbage in England ; would that destroy the proof of the existence of a mathematician ?’

    “ No, I should infer that there was a mathematician who made the machine.”

    “ On the same principle you would infer, that there was a designer who made the bee, which is in some respects, an animated mathematical machine.”

    “ I see it now.”

    Isaac did not at first understand the conversation, but by thinking it over, and asking his father some questions, he came to understand. It gave him an idea of reasoning — a most important idea for a young to gain.”

    I liked the quick reference to automated calculating machine and Charles Babbage to add one step in that argument. But of course, it would have been blasphemous in 1848 to continue that chain of thought and have Isaac ask, through the same facility of “reasoning”, whether a Designer God was also “Designed” by a higher God…