Effective communication is important for any species that lives in social groups.
Counting makes decision-making easier—which action will provide a greater reward?—and is a useful skill for animals that live in social groups and have to keep track of their comrades.
It’s also useful for animals that must keep track of large numbers of young.
But what if you don’t accept evolution? What if you believe that human beings were created by a supernatural being, that the act of humanity’s creation was an act separate from the creation of other living things, and that humans are unrelated to any other living thing—superior to and closer to our supernatural creator than any other creature on Earth? How do you explain the fact that we resemble so many of the living things around us, not just physically—we must breathe, eat, sleep, defecate, reproduce—but mentally, as well.
One creationist response, according to some popular creationist websites, is that intelligent behavior in animals is a sign of “the genius and creativity of God." That’s not an explanation.
You can point to any phenomenon in the universe and say that it’s a sign of God’s creativity and genius.
This is a method commonly used by some religious people to deny empirical evidence.
Observation: Fossils in these rock strata indicate that Species A must have lived millions of years before Species B.
Response: God—what with Him being so brilliant and creative—must have intentionally arranged the fossils that way despite the fact that these species both lived at exactly the same time.
It couldn’t possibly be that the evidence indicates that something happened because it actually happened.
There is also the Intelligent Design explanation for animal intelligence—complex mental behaviors could not have evolved on their own, without the interference of a powerful, supernatural designer, just as complex physical structures could not have evolved without supernatural interference.
But life has existed on Earth for much longer than the 6,000 or so years claimed by creationists, and there has been plenty of time for complex, intelligent behaviors (and complex physical structures) that increase the chance of survival to have evolved in different species.
A designer is not necessary.
There is nothing astonishing about animal intelligence. It simply makes sense.
Machines Like Us welcomes Marcia Malory as a new contributor. She has been interested in science since she was a young girl, began her university career working toward a degree in chemistry, but switched to political science when she realized that understanding why someone would want to build a bomb is just as important as knowing how to build one. She believes that all the members of a technologically advanced, democratic society must have access to scientific knowledge in order for that society to function effectively; she promotes science education by writing for science websites aimed at the general public. Find out more here.