The planet Uranus was observed by scientists as early as 1690. For over 100 years astronomers watched this “last planet” in the solar system with wonder. The problem was that the orbit of the new planet did not follow the rules. The eccentricity of Uranus’ orbit told the astronomers that there was something very large and forceful that was having a real impact on what Uranus did and how it behaved. As time went by, better telescopes were built. Astronomers had watched Uranus long enough to know where the great influence was, so they turned their instruments to that part of the sky and were astounded to see still another planet–Neptune! The orbit of Neptune was established and studied, and it too did not quite obey the rules, so astronomers turned their most powerful instruments even further out and discovered Pluto. Most modern discoveries in astronomy are related to influence. We know where to look and what to look for because we see the influence of an object long before we see the object itself.
In Discover magazine (March 2017, page 24) there is a reference to a species of wild cattle called aurochs that lived in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The article says that the aurochs was the first recorded animal to become extinct. The last aurochs died in Poland in 1627. These animals are portrayed in the ancient cave art of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc and Lascaux in southern France. They have been called “supercattle.” Julius Caesar saw aurochs and said of them, “In size these are little but inferior to elephants. They spare neither men nor beast.”
In the Bible, there are animals described that we do not find examples of in the living biosphere of today. In Job 40:15-24 there is a description of an animal which in the Hebrew is called behemoth. This word is the plural of the word behema used in Genesis 1:24 and many later verses throughout the Old Testament. Behema is usually translated as livestock or cattle, and there is no question but that this is the intent in Genesis 1. Behemoth would be a large, massive example of behema. It cannot refer to a dinosaur, even if we ignore the scientific evidence because the word always referred to an ungulate, which is a mammal. Suggestions that it was a hippopotamus are unlikely since there was another word for the hippo. It could refer to a giant sloth which also became extinct. However, the aurochs probably fits the description better.
For the last few days, we have been talking about the annual Darwin Day (February 12) and Darwin Weekend (February 10-12). Darwin Day is a commemoration of Charles Darwin’s birthday by various groups and organizations. Darwin Weekend is designed for churches to promote a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. That is a worthy goal, but we have some cautions. Yesterday we said that since the Bible and creation have the same Author/Creator, they cannot conflict. If there is a conflict, there is either bad science, bad theology, or both. We have had plenty of both.
One negative aspect of Darwin Weekend comes when people use evolution to promote destructive social agendas. Peter Singer, Princeton University’s Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics, building on naturalistic evolution suggests that we should destroy “unfit human life.” Singer would have us empty prisons, mental institutions, care facilities for the mentally challenged, and hospitals by simply eliminating the unfit. Here are his words from an interview with the New York Times, June 6, 2010. “How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world? We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states…If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.” Further applying the evolutionary concept of survival of the fittest has led to grave injustices. There were those who justified slavery by claiming that unfit people could be used to serve more fit people. Wars have been justified by saying that superior species had the right to overpower less advanced civilizations.
Perhaps Darwin Weekend needs to promote Einstein’s statement about science and religion where he said: “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” From science we learn how God works and has worked in creation. Science has made great discoveries, but what science cannot do is determine how we should use its discoveries. Will we use genetic engineering to solve human problems of food shortages, disease, and suffering; or will we use it to produce diseases that destroy massive numbers of people? Science can be used to benefit life or to destroy life. How to use scientific discoveries and knowledge is not an area which science can address.
We have been thinking about the upcoming Darwin Day on February 12, and Darwin Weekend February 10-12. We have considered the wonderful way in which life was designed to change and adapt–that is, to evolve. Let’s consider what this means to biblical faith.
When the Bible talks about different kinds of living things, it does not indicate a fixity of species. Consistently the Bible refers to large groupings of animals as “kinds.” Genesis 1:20-26, Genesis 6:20, Genesis 7:3 and 14, 1 Corinthians 15:39, and James 3:7 all share similar groupings. I am told that there are 126 different varieties of chickens in the world, but the Bible doesn’t describe each of them. In fact, all fowl seem to have a common origin. Fish are described as an independent kind, but new species have been cultivated by humans, and the number of fish in the waters of the world is huge. The Bible also agrees that living things can change. Jacob’s management of Laban’s flocks is a clear use of what Darwin later described. The fact that all races of humans in the world today can be genetically traced to a single female ancestor is an indication that even humans can change.