Of Birds, Evolution, and Faith

I was watching a nature show on TV when they turned their attention to the black heron, a medium-sized African bird who is keen on fishing.  They showed video of the heron draping its wings forward, cape-like around its body, casting a shadow over the shallow bank of a pond.  Small fish gathered in the shadowy water, allowing the heron easier access to lunch.

The commentator said, “The heron has evolved this behavior and ability to create an umbrella with its wings in order to catch fish more effectively.”  Black heron

And that got me thinking.  We are told repeatedly that animal behavior is the result of evolution.  But, we should pause when we hear such things and ask ourselves whether that’s even logical.

Think with me …

What we’re being asked to believe is that an early ancestor of this bird was doing a bit of fishing and came to realize that fish preferred shadows to direct sunlight.  But there was very little he could do about it since his wings were built for flying rather than for shadow-casting.  Nevertheless, he held on to that bit of information and managed to share it with friends and progressive generations of herons after him.  As thousands of years passed, generation after generation of herons tried with all their might to bring their wings forward, block the sun, and attract their meal.  They were apparently not dissuaded by the fact that couldn’t do it and that this particular technique was of no immediate help to them. The plucky birds continued their attempts until, by mere force of will and determination, they changed their own genetic code.  Eventually, their wings grew wider and more flexible, allowing them to accomplish their long-awaited wing-wrapping behavior.  Amazing tenacity, you herons, you.

Now, before you’re put off by my approach, isn’t that exactly what the commentator meant by saying that the heron had “evolved this behavior and ability”?  Isn’t evolution something that happens gradually, over long stretches of time?  And isn’t all evolution driven by the need for food and the preservation of the species?  Well then, how did a bird who couldn’t do something know that it would be beneficial to do it?  And how did that knowledge change the genetic makeup of that particular type of bird?

Darwinian evolution tells us that behaviors and physical traits that do not benefit the survival of the species eventually fall away.  Survival of the fit, and all that.  The heron’s inability to cast a shadow with its wings would not have eventually produced the ability to do it.  It would have resulted in adaptation: the herons would have eaten something else or learned to fish with the abilities it had.  Either that, or die.

Where, I wondered, did those early herons get the idea that throwing a shadow on the water would be beneficial?  Careful observation?  Are birds really that logical?  And, if they couldn’t do anything about it, how were they capable of passing that information along, generation after generation for thousands of years, until one day one young heron was able to do it?  And since his newfound ability would have been a mutation, how was it passed along to all herons so that they could all benefit from this unique fishing experience?

Now, here’s my point.  When we say that we believe in a Creator, we are often chided and belittled for our naiveté.  Belief in such a Being is said to be based in faith, not in fact.  But, when we’re told about vision-casting, supremely logical, prescient, genetically self-altering birds …. that’s science.

In response, someone will counter, “Natural selection!”  But, natural selection is not a thing.  It’s not a force.  It’s a phrase.  If it IS a thing, if it IS driving all life forward and directing the herons to eventually learn how to fish better, then it’s a creative force akin to the God spoken of in the Bible.  “Natural selection” is really just the evolutionist’s version of a creator.

So, the evolutionist spins around in a quasi-scientific Catch-22.  Evolution cannot explain things like the eyeball.  Only a complex, working eyeball produces sight.  But we’re asked to believe that non-sighted animals somehow understood what sight was and that it would be beneficial in hunting and finding a mate.  So, the eyeball evolved, despite the fact that every early stage of development would not have produced any sight at all.  Nevertheless, “natural selection” kept developing eyeballs until one day sight occurred.  And the seeing animal was so excited, he managed to pass that ability along.

OR — eyes exist because God decided they would and He knew what He was doing.

I find that much easier to believe than the alternative.

Thank you, herons, for a valuable object lesson.

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Yep, you got me …

A friend sent me an article by Hank Hanegraaff … you know, the “Bible Answer Man.”  The article is a response to the Left Behind books and movie.  Hank is a preterist, so he and Tim LaHaye are at polar opposite eschatological extremes.  Anyway, in the article Hank offers a rather biased “definition” of dispensationalism, which he says results from a “strict literalism” when reading the Bible.  This is an accusation I hear regularly.  And I can’t help but be amused by it.  Inherent in the charge of “literalism” is the tacit admission that our view is the result of actually reading what the words on the page genuinely say.  So, I guess in order to support the other positions, you must ignore what the text says in favor of an interpretive scheme.

No thanks …. I’ll stick with the words on the page.  But, thanks for admitting it’s in there.

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Daily Assurance

I woke up this morning with the phrase “daily assurance” rolling around in my noggin.  Perhaps it’s an echo of what we taught Sunday morning about asking our Father for daily bread.  We don’t get to ask for tomorrow’s provision, only today’s.  In the same way, God provides us with daily confidence and assurance that He is present, mindful, and involved in the events of our lives.

Jesus instructed, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6:34)  There is tremendous wisdom in that.  As my old professor used to say, no one ever had a nervous breakdown worrying about today.    But we’re anxious over tomorrow, next week, a month from now.  So we should remember the phrase, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

The prophet Jeremiah wrote the book of Lamentations.  And he knew what he was talking about.  He had a rough go of it; nearly forty years of telling the truth and not a single recorded convert.  In chapter 3, after penning a litany of afflictions, Jeremiah turns his eyes to the only refuge available.  And it’s in that context — the list of woes and troubles — that Jeremiah provides the title of the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

This I recall to my mind,
            Therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning;  Great is Your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” (Lamentations 3: 21-24)

I have been known to half-jokingly warn: Cheer up, saints, it’s going to get worse.  But not this morning.  Rather, cheer up, saints, because our God is good and His mercy is new in this cycle of the earth’s rotation.  The same God who keeps the universe spinning promises that He will provide the mercy necessary to sustain you, forgive you, and comfort you.

And I know me.  Before this day is out, I will be utterly dependent on that mercy.  I am grateful that it is renewed daily.  That knowledge refreshes my soul.

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