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A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
OF JEAN HENNRI FABRE and his work

  "After eighty-seven years of thought and observation, I say not merely that I believe in God –I can even say that I see Him."  Thus spoke the great scientist Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915), at the end of his life.

  Fabre’s speciality was a science called entomology. This Greek word means "knowledge of insects."

 This fascinating world of insects was the passion of J. H. Fabre. He dedicated his life to its study. And he studied insects as a Catholic should study them.

 His science, far from being an obstacle to his faith, was leading him to wonder at the beauty of creation. We would recommend to homeschoolers to purchase the books of J. H. Fabre.

  Let us start with an animal which, technically, is not even an insect but what is called an "arachnid," an animal which everyone knows quite well: the spider. Fabre’s observations reveal God’s wonderful craftsmanship. The spider’s legs are tremendously strong but yet extremely agile. And they work in perfect harmony (some of us who are a bit clumsy are amazed at the thought of simultaneously moving eight legs without stumbling!). Fabre’s observations explain why spiders don’t get caught in their own webs.

  Fabre’s observations on the perfection of instinct also lead us to admire God’s wisdom. Parents, get your children to observe spiders: how do they build their webs? how do they start? how do they weave these threads with such geometrical precision? Obviously the wonderful intelligence which the spiders display had to come from their designer. Indeed it cannot come from their own brain since Fabre shows that wherever they are confronted with the slightest novel difficulty, they act like creatures without reason. and are powerless to solve it. Insects act with wonderful dexterity as long as their instinct remains within a determined groove from which they cannot escape. As soon as they are faced with something different, they act with incredible stupidity. Animals are "pinned down" to one set of actions. They are not inventive as men are, since they do not have an intellect. This is why spiders build their webs now in exactly the same way as they were building them in prehistoric times. Men have perfected their tools from the stone axe to the computer. But animals are confined by their instinct to the same circle.

  The observation of such an amazing instinct in irrational beings is a proof of the existence of God. As the Dominican Louis of Grenada remarks:

  In all these things, we shall show the perfection of Divine Providence which cares for everything necessary for the preservation of all these various kinds of creatures and overlooks neither one iota nor one point essential to their existence. We also observe that everything which these creatures might do, if they had reason and knowledge, Providence supplies it, as we say; by giving the animals natural inclinations and instincts to do what they could do if they possessed reason and knowledge. The arrangement even advances the animals to a higher stage in some respects, because they obtain not only that which they could obtain if they had reason, but they obtain many things which exceed the power of reason because these things are necessary for their preservation.

  Another wonderful example of animal instinct is displayed by the bees when they construct their honeycomb. The bees have to solve this problem: What should be the angles of the rhombus closing the hexagonal prism of the wax cell so as to combine the maximum of strength with the minimum of material? Réaumur, the entomologist, once proposed the question in that way to a mathematician (König), who calculated the angles at 109° 26’ and 70° 34.’ The angles adopted by the bees are 109° 28’ and 70° 32.’ The slight error proved to be on the side of the mathematician, or rather was due to the table of logarithms which he used.

  Fabre, the chief authority in his field, had studied hundreds of insects. A striking case is the unerring accuracy with which the wasp performs a task requiring perfect anatomical knowledge.

  This insect, when preparing the worm as food for its larvae, cuts, as with a surgical lance, all its motor-nerve centers, so as to deprive it of movement, but not of life. The insect then lays eggs beside the worm and covers all with clay. It has got its wonderful surgical skill without instruction or practice. It lives for but one season. It has not been taught by its parents, for it has never seen them. It does not teach its offspring, for it dies before they emerge from the earth. It has not got its skill by heredity. For, what does heredity mean in such a case? It means that some ancestor of the insect, having accidentally struck the worm in the nine or ten nerve centers, managed somehow or other to transmit to all its descendants a facility for achieving the same success. But it is mere folly to say that this chance act of the ancestor rather than any other chance act should become a fixed habit in all its progeny. And could the original success have been due to chance? Where the number of points that might have been struck was infinitely great, the chance of striking the nerve centers alone was zero (Sheehan).

  Therefore there also the observations of Fabre point out to the existence of Divine Providence. As Louis of Grenada says:

  Aristotle in his book on animals tells us that in the smallest of these insects shines forth more brightly a reflection of the divine intellect, than in the larger animals. Consequently, inasmuch as these animals are smaller and more worthless by so much the more do they make known to us the omnipotence and wisdom of that Lord Who has endowed such tiny bodies with such singular powers and abilities. Thus they preach to us the riches of His Providence, since He never fails to supply even the smallest and most worthless of His creatures with the aid necessary for their conservation. Wherefore, we should realize that He Who takes great care of the smaller things, inasmuch as they are small, will take greater care of greater things in so far as they are greater.

  Too often in the study of science only analytical skills are developed. Students have to memorize a certain number of facts so that they can get a passing grade on a test. There is no development of the curiosity of how nature operates, of the wonder at the marvels of Creation and of gratitude for God’s immense goodness. Filling up children’s minds with mere information also gives the impression that everything is explained. There is no longer the sense of mystery which is so important to the child. Parents should profit from John Henry Fabre’s works in order to lead young people to observe attentively the fascinating world of insects and then exclaim with the Psalmist: "O Lord my God, Thou art great indeed! How manifold are Thy works! In wisdom Thou hast wrought them all. The earth is full of Thy creatures. I will sing praise to the Lord God all my life!" (Ps. 103).