One of the issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised is the use of animals for food. People in many Asian countries eat animals that Americans would not think of using for food. An example is eating dogs for dinner.
Many years ago, while lecturing in London, a Chinese friend took me to an oriental restaurant for dinner. Since the menu was in Chinese, my host suggested that I let him order the meal. He said that he would get a variety of food so I could experience the diet of people who live in the area where he was born. I agreed but wrote down each item that was brought to me to sample.
When I got back to Indiana, I asked one of my students who spoke Chinese what I had eaten. He didn’t want to tell me. The first item was horse, the second was dog, and the third was cat. It was actually very good, but if he had told me that I was eating dog before it came to me on a plate, I am sure I would have balked at eating it.
The Week magazine (August 28, 2020, page 11) reported on eating dogs for dinner. The report says that the North Korean government is confiscating all pet dogs for use as food. Hungry North Koreans regard feeding a pet as wasteful, and the Communist government labels keeping a pet as a “bourgeois extravagance.” Authorities in North Korea are forcing households with pet dogs to surrender the animals for dog-meat distribution to restaurants and meat markets.
The COVID-19 issue originating in Chinese wet markets reminds us that what we eat can be an essential factor in human diseases. Knowing what dogs eat, where they go, and what their hygiene is like raises some serious concerns about what diseases they might carry. The Bible tells us to take care of our bodies as they are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). Being careful about what we eat and how our food is handled and prepared should be part of caring for our bodies.
During my seven years in the army, I was in a survey crew. Our job was to go out into the wilderness and survey objects to be fired upon by the artillery unit. Because we were accustomed to being on our own and concealing our movement with the terrain and natural objects, we were frequently assigned sentinel duty. That meant our survey crew was deployed around the perimeter of where our unit was sleeping for the night. We were there to watch for any enemy coming close to our unit. In combat, we were especially vulnerable, because we had no protection ourselves, and were frequently in enemy territory. Sentinel duty was essential for the survival of the whole unit, but it was a dangerous duty.
Animals also practice sentinel duty. Birds are especially adept at having sentinels during their migratory journeys when they are vulnerable to hawks, wolves, foxes, cats, snakes, and a wide variety of mammals. Studies have shown that most birds migrating in groups have a single bird to watch for predators while the other birds in the flock are foraging. Because sentinels are by themselves, easy to identify, and further from a place of safety than the rest of the flock, they are frequently the first to be eaten.
Many animal behaviors in the natural world do not promote the survival of the individual but contribute to the group’s advancement. Sentinel duty seems to be built into life-forms to allow survival in a constantly changing environment. God has designed a wide variety of behaviors into living things to enable Earth to be full of every kind of living creature. Sentinel duty is one of those genetically programmed behaviors.
It is interesting how difficult it seems to be for humans to practice social distancing to control disease. Scientific American published an article about social distancing in animals. Disease control is a basic need for all animals, but only humans create vaccines. So how do animals in the wild prevent the spread of disease?
Research on spiny lobsters shows that lobsters infected with a virus called Panulirus argus give off a smell in their urine that causes other lobsters to leave the area. Because of the economic value of lobster populations, much research has gone into understanding how this social distancing works.
A particular fungus spreads its spores by physical contact between ants. Other ants keep infected ants away from the colony and especially away from the queen and the nurse ants that take care of the brood to protect the ant population from the threat. Researchers have discovered social distancing in animals such as finches, guppies, mandrills, and mongooses. They all have procedures to isolate infected individuals and prevent the spread of disease.
Interestingly, God’s design for life includes social distancing in animals to stop viruses and fungi from spreading among their populations. Humans should not only be concerned about distancing from infected humans, but also from those animals that can spread diseases that affect humans. Trying to have animal pets that can carry diseases that threaten humans seems to be something we should all reconsider.
One of the most interesting examples of design is the massive number of symbiotic relationships that exist in the natural world. These are arrangements two or more plants or animals benefit each other. Sometimes the design of symbiosis is essential for their survival.
Living by a river in Michigan, we see many animals that couldn’t exist without symbiotic relationships. Such common animals as squirrels need a designed symbiotic relationship that allows them gives them a growing abundance of food. We have a wealth of oak trees. In the fall, there are so many acorns on the ground that you can’t go barefoot. I counted 14 squirrels in my yard this morning, gathering acorns. They not only eat the acorns, but they bury them so that they will have a reserve of food for the rest of the year. They hide so many in so many different places that they eat only a small fraction of the acorns. The rest sprout and produce more oak trees. The oak forest spreads, and that means that the squirrel population can increase. The trees feed the squirrels, and the squirrels plant the trees in the design of symbiosis.
I grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. The bedrock there is mostly granite. Granite is hard, and water cannot penetrate it. That means that growing crops is difficult in the “U.P.” Animals would have it tough except that God has provided an animal with a symbiotic relationship to the soil and rocks of the area. To retain enough water to take the entire ecosystem through periods of drought, beavers construct dams in the streams. The multiple dams create small ponds that supply the water needs of plants and animals. What would otherwise be a sterile wasteland is a temperate paradise of woods with a wealth of birds and animals all dependent on the beavers. As beavers reproduce, their kits build their own system of dams and ponds, expanding the availability of water for all northern life.
What is the most expensive meal you can order when you go out to eat? Ask for the “diamonds of the kitchen” and you will be served a fungus called a truffle. A three-pound truffle recently sold for $300,000, and yet it is just a fungus. Truffles grow underground on the roots of trees. The truffle keeps bacteria and corrosive elements away from the tree roots, and the roots provide a protected place for the truffle to grow. This is another design of symbiosis. The way most people search for truffles is to have pigs root around trees until they uncover a truffle. Truffles are said to be the most expensive food in the world, but to locate them requires the use of animals that most of us don’t care to be around.
There are countless symbiotic relationships. The question of interest is, how does such a relationship develop? Is it merely by accident? We suggest God has looked at the nutritional needs of all of His creatures. In His wisdom, He has created living things in a way that links their food supply to other living things in their environment. The design of symbiosis is a marvelous creation of God.
There was a time when human beings were defined as those individuals who fashion and use tools. When researchers showed that chimps could fashion sticks to pull ants out of their anthills, paleontologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey was quoted as saying, “We are either going to have to change our definition of ‘human’ or invite the chimps to send a representative to the United Nations.”
Recently it has been shown that Orangutans, after watching humans use canoes, borrowed the canoes to forage for aquatic plants using the same techniques the humans had used. Octopuses have been seen carrying coconut shells around with them and then using the shells as a shelter. Crows have been seen fashioning sticks to use as levers to pry the lids off of bottles. Several kinds of monkeys have been seen to use conchoidally shaped chert or flint as a cutting tool. I have a raccoon that pulls my bird feeder up hand over hand, hooks it on a nail that is sticking out of the support my feeder hangs on and proceeds to empty the feeder.
Dr. Robert Shumaker of the Indianapolis Zoo has an interesting article about tool use by animals in the “Explore” section of National Geographic for March 2017. He gives 22 different animal groups all of which use tools in one way or another. Some animals, like the chimps, can imitate tool use. We all know that dogs can learn. At least some animals can think, but some clearly others cannot learn or think. Archerfish, capture insects by shooting streams of water from their mouths to knock insects off of plants near the water. They compensate for refraction, and they do this even if they have never been around another archerfish. It is clearly built into their DNA and is not learned or thought out.