In our age of scary stories about global warming when alarmists are warning that humans are destroying the Earth by our huge carbon footprint, it is always good to hear something positive. That is especially true when that positive thing is something people have held up as negative for a very long time. I have stood on the edge of a huge swamp in the southern part of the United States and wondered what possible use an area like that would have. You can talk about providing a home for insects, birds, or rare tropical plants, but the swamp still looks like a wasteland with its mile after mile of muck and dead vegetation.
Imagine a swamp that covers 56,000 square miles and has a depth of 20 feet of ugly black muck. Why would God create a place like that? What possible use can it have? That huge swamp is the Cuvette Centrale peatlands in Africa’s central Congo Basin, and it has been accumulating for nearly 11,000 years. We now know that this particular swamp is a huge carbon sink. Recent measurements by scientists show that this one swamp holds about thirty billion tons of carbon. That’s the equivalent of 20 years of United States fossil fuel emissions. Satellite measurements have shown this swamp is sixteen times larger than previous estimates. Chemical studies show it is highly acidic and devoid of oxygen so it traps carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere.
Over the years we have presented data on some amazing migrations. We have had several discussions about the Arctic tern and how it makes its incredible 12,000-mile journey. Research has shown that the Arctic tern uses multiple cues including magnetism, sight, smell, and even sound. We have also talked about whales, salmon, and sea turtles and the way they benefit multiple ecosystems by their migrations. Now we have a new migration that has just been discovered and is equivalent to 20,000 flying reindeer. It’s migrating insects.
According to the study, 2-5 million migrating insects fly over the United Kingdom each year. The study is reported in the December 23, 2016, issue of Science by a team headed by Jason Chapman. Tracking these arthropods involves the use of special radar designed to detect insects. The team estimates that the total biomass of these arthropods is 3200 tons which is 7.7 times more than the biomass of the songbirds in the same area. These are tiny creatures with some of them weighing less than 10 milligrams.
Chapman notes that these arthropods are not just accidentally caught up in the wind. Some of them climb to the top of a plant to launch their flight. Some stand on tiptoe and put out silk until the wind catches them and carries them away. The animals only launch when the wind is to the north from May to June, and in August and September, they launch when the wind blows to the south. Chapman concludes “these arthropods must have some kind of built-in compass plus a preferred direction and the genetics that change that preference as they or their offspring make the return migration.“
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.
Yesterday we mentioned that various groups are celebrating February 12, the birthday of Charles Darwin, as “Darwin Day.” There are also churches that are designating February 10-12 as “Darwin Weekend” to promote harmony between science and faith. That seems like a positive goal since the purpose of the DOES GOD EXIST? program for over 40 years has been to show that science and faith are friends, not enemies.
As this annual commemoration approaches, we want to reflect on what Darwin discovered and how he interpreted it. People knew that animals could change and the breeding of animals for improved features had been going on for centuries. (See our post on January 28 about goldfish breeding and note what Jacob did with Laban’s cattle in Genesis 20:25-42.) What Darwin did was to suggest a method by which these changes can take place in the natural world unaided by outside intervention. In 1859 he published his influential book On The Origin of Species. He advanced a theory that natural selection acting on random mutations was what led to the evolution of all living species from a few common ancestors, or perhaps only one. He suggested that variations within a species occur randomly. If the variation is harmful, it will lead to extinction. If the variation helps the animal to adapt to its environment, that animal will live and pass on those traits to its descendants. In The Descent of Man (1871) Darwin clearly applied this process to the origin of human beings. Darwin concluded that humans must have evolved from an apelike animal based on comparing the anatomy of humans to other mammals. He also based it on similarities in embryological development, and the existence of what he called “rudimentary” organs which today are often referred to as “vestigial” (such as tonsils and appendix). In Darwin’s words, “In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used.” Darwin fully expected that later fossil discoveries would show the gradual progress of evolution. More than 150 years later, the fossil record is still lacking, but today science points to DNA to show evidence of common descent.
From the beginning, Darwin’s proposal was controversial. Many atheists seized on Darwin’s work to show that God was not necessary. Many theologians condemned the idea of humans descending from “some apelike creature” because of its conflict with the biblical account. However, there were and are people who suggest that evolution is the method God used to create all life, even including humans. A noted scientist today who is a firm believer in God and a Christian is Dr. Francis Collins. He believes that evolution was created by God as a method of bringing all life into existence. He wrote in his book The Language of God, “No serious biologist today doubts the theory of evolution to explain the marvelous complexity and diversity of life.” Other Christian scientists such as Dr. Hugh Ross and Dr. Fazale Rana argue for God’s intervention into the process of evolution as demonstrated in the “Cambrian Explosion” and the “hominid explosion” which indicate a geologically sudden emergence of new life forms. They see the emergence of new life forms and the creation of Adam and Eve as cases of Divine intervention. They explain this in their excellent book Who Was Adam? now in its second edition updated in 2015.
Colleges, schools, museums, and other groups are calling February 12, the birthday of Charles Darwin, “Darwin Day” to honor his life and work. Also, the weekend of February 10-12 has been designated as “Darwin Weekend” in hundreds of churches to promote a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. Michael Zimmerman, who is credited with initiating Darwin Weekend, states that a critical goal is to “demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter promoting Darwin Weekend says, “Those that claim that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”
We applaud the goal of promoting a better understanding of the relationship between religion and science. We also applaud the objective of demonstrating that people do not have to choose between religion and science. The problem with Darwin Day and Darwin Weekend comes from the views of those who are leading these events. Anytime you have people with a background in theology trying to address a scientific subject or people with a scientific background trying to explain religious principles and applications; you are bound to have difficulties. Many religious leaders wish to make science and faith so separate and distinct from one another that laymen get the idea they have to decide between one of the two and avoid conflict by never letting the two come in near proximity. Over the five decades that I have been involved in talking about science and faith, I have had many instances where a preacher tells me you just have to believe what the Bible says, and that is that. They insist that all science is the work of humans, is flawed, and not worth your time. The problem is that they think their interpretation of what the Bible says is correct and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. In the meantime, they enjoy the benefits of modern science. Most young people have seen the benefits that science has brought, and they are not willing to embrace an interpretation of the Bible that seems to be mystical. I have also had people who consider the latest evolutionary theory to be sacred, and any questioning of their understanding of the theory to be an indication of religious bigotry. They relegate religion to the geriatric dump as a relic of historical value and nothing more.
How big can an animal get? Science fiction frequently shows animals of enormous size, and yet in reality land mammals can only get so big. The amount of oxygen in the air, the type of muscle development needed to run, the limitations of reproduction by live birth, and a host of other technical problems are involved in limiting the size of land mammals. This is not just true of mammals, but it is true of birds which are also warm-blooded. Reptiles, on the other hand, never stop growing. An 80-year-old T. Rex was still growing, but I can tell you from personal experience that an 80-year-old man is not. This issue has a lot to do with whether the dinosaurs were birds, and whether dinosaurs and humans could have lived at the same time.