The Protective Plover

Australia is famous for its diverse wildlife wanting to kill you.  Even the birds get in on the action.  In certain regions the Australian magpie (no relation to the Canadian bird) will swoop at humans, at times with deadly consequences.  A five-month old baby recently died when her mother stumbled while trying to avoid a swooping magpie in Brisbane.  Thankfully, the magpies here in Tasmania are much milder mannered – they don’t swoop.  However, things are quite different when it comes to our plovers.

Ornithologists call them masked lapwings, but most Aussies just call them plovers.  For North American readers, just imagine a large killdeer with a bad temper at certain times of the year.  In our Launceston neighbourhood they’re prolific.  You can’t avoid them, even though at times you desperately want to.

I’d nominate them as Tasmania’s most dangerous bird.  Though they’re sometimes hard to see from a distance, plovers have a black-tipped yellow spur on the carpal joint of their wings.  And they’re not afraid to use these spiky little weapons.  Swooping magpies just have their beaks; plovers intimidate with beaks and spurs – doubly dangerous.

Most of the year plovers are harmless.  They just go about their business feasting on worms and insects.  At such times their only fault is their awful sound.  Australian magpies have a beautiful throaty call, but plovers sound like a malfunctioning home alarm.

However, when the winter solstice rolls around in the antipodes (June 21), plovers become unhinged.  The solstice usually marks the beginning of their breeding season.  The problems begin with where the females choose to lay their eggs, which is just about anywhere.  A few weeks ago I was on my normal daily walk route.  I rounded a corner on a sidewalk and there, right next to the sidewalk on the grass, was a female plover sitting on her eggs.  She started squawking at me, the male started squawking at me, and I made a hasty retreat to the other side of the street.  I don’t mess with plovers.   

In the weeks following, I knew to avoid that spot.  In that instance, a predator appears to have eventually raided the nest – I never saw any chicks.  But it’s when the chicks hatch that things really start to get out of control.  In another spot on my daily walk route, plovers have been nesting regularly each year.  This year they initially had four chicks hatch.  At the moment, they’re down to one.  The other three haven’t survived – probably due to cats, but we also have a goshawk in the vicinity, as well as some falcons.  But with that one chick, that pair of plovers will protect it with their lives.  A nest is static – it stays in one spot; but chicks are mobile and you never know where they’re going to be from day to day.  If you come anywhere near a plover chick, the parents only give you a couple of warning squawks before the aggressive aerial attack begins.  I’ve been attacked several times, always by accidentally coming across chicks and their parents, and I can tell you it’s the kind of experience which requires a change of undergarments afterwards.  They’ve never made contact, but it’s still a terrifying ordeal.

Plovers seem insane about protecting their young, their most vulnerable.  I often think about their instinct to do whatever it takes to make sure their chicks survive, even before they hatch. They’ll even resort to violence to protect the next generation.  But then are others of God’s creatures which resort to violence to destroy the next generation.  So many tiny helpless human beings are being brutally destroyed in the womb each day.  The human parents who are supposed to protect them fail.  Plovers may appear insane with their protective instincts, but I’d propose that it’s actually humans who are insane with their failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our species.  And unlike plovers who have no moral responsibility for their violent instincts, we humans are culpable for our insanity.  Even in creation, God has not left us without a witness to this fact. It’s neither natural or moral to fail to protect.

An Exhaustive Exegetical Extravaganza

In the Beginning: Listening to Genesis 1 and 2, Cornelis Van Dam.  Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2021.  Hardcover, 371 pages.

Dr. C. Van Dam begins his latest book by explicitly laying out his presuppositions.  He’s upfront about his non-negotiable assumptions and biases.  As I review his book, it’s appropriate that I share mine too.  I share his presuppositions about Scripture as the trustworthy Word of God, but I also bring a personal bias to the table.  Back in the day, Van Dam was my Old Testament professor at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.  I had an affectionate nickname for him in view of his ability to put the smack-down on unbelieving or shoddy scholarship:  “Wham-Bam-Van-Dam.”  This was always said with the greatest admiration for Dr. Van Dam.  As a seminary professor he was nothing if not thorough and careful.

This new book exhibits that same kind of comprehensive and precise approach to the two opening chapters of Scripture.  Van Dam leaves no stone unturned.  In the Beginning is an exhaustive treatment not only of the meaning of these two chapters, but also the various challenges that have been raised in Old Testament scholarship regarding them.  What you’re looking at here is not just a commentary on Genesis 1-2, but far more.

Over the last decade or so John Walton has become well-known for his views on the early chapters of Genesis.  Walton argues that we often misunderstand Genesis 1-2 because we don’t take into account the ancient Near Eastern context of these chapters.  Once we do that, says Walton, then we can see that Genesis 1-2 was never meant to be taken literally as history.  The history can then be filled in with what science teaches us, including what science says about human origins.  In chapter 2 of In the Beginning, Van Dam discusses Walton’s views at length and explains how and where they fail to do justice to the character of Scripture as the Word of God.  In my view this is the most important chapter of the book. 

To whet your appetite further, let me share a selection of questions that Dr. Van Dam answers elsewhere in the book:

  • Can new scientific data be regarded as general revelation given by God?
  • What is the relationship of Scripture to science?  Is Scripture a scientific textbook?
  • Can geology give us a history of creation?
  • Was Herman Dooyeweerd faithful to Scripture in his view of origins?
  • How are we to evaluate Meredith Kline’s Framework Hypothesis?
  • Did the ancient Israelites believe that heaven was a solid vault above us?
  • Why is there no mention of evening and morning with the seventh day in Genesis 1?
  • What does Scripture mean when it says that God created through his Son?
  • Can the breath of life in Genesis 2:7 be equated with the Holy Spirit?
  • Was there animal death before the fall into sin?
  • Why did God create everything with an appearance of age?  Was he being deceptive in so doing?

Those are just a few of the questions answered.  There are far more.  What I appreciate about Van Dam’s answers is that he bases them on what Scripture says.  He doesn’t want to go beyond Scripture and so he’ll sometimes say, “Scripture doesn’t say more than this – this is as far as we can go.”

If I would venture some respectful disagreement, it would be in the final chapter where the author briefly discusses whether there’s a need for new confessional formulations to address the challenges of evolution.  In 2014-15, I was involved with an effort to add some clarification to article 14 of the Belgic Confession in the Canadian Reformed Church.  That effort was ultimately unsuccessful.  I don’t regret having made the effort, nor do I think it unnecessary to this day. 

Van Dam argues that Scripture is clear and our “confessions faithfully reflect that testimony” (p.300).  However, that fails to account for those who have argued that the Three Forms of Unity provide the latitude needed to hold to forms of theistic macro-evolution.  Their arguments have persuaded some.  This wiggle-room ought to be addressed, especially if there is openness to theistic macro-evolution in your churches.

Van Dam also posits that “A difficulty with preparing a new formulation asserting the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 is the temptation to go beyond what Scripture says, in other words, to provide specifics about that which Scripture gives no additional detail” (pp.300-301).  The proposal to add clarification to BC 14 was to state what Scripture states:  that Adam was created from dust (Gen.2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).  As a consequence:  “They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans.  There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid.”  If one thinks that this infringes upon the freedom of exegesis, then one is willing to grant the latitude for theistic evolutionary accounts of human (and other) origins.    

That criticism notwithstanding, In the Beginning was a delight to read – personally it brought me back to many of the OT lectures I enjoyed from Dr. Van Dam in my seminary years.  While I found it enjoyable, there may be others who will find it tough-going at times.  It’s not highly technical, but in places Van Dam does go academic.  It’s not a book you’d necessarily be giving out as gifts to those doing profession of faith.  It would, however, be a great gift for someone doing post-secondary studies, whether in the sciences or in the humanities.  And it’s definitely a recommended read for those who’ve completed such studies. 

Free film: God of wonders

Documentary
85 min / 2008
Rating: 7/10

This is a nature documentary that starts at the stars, and touches on just about everything else: lightning, squids, hummingbirds, seeds, snow crystals, DNA and butterflies are just a few of the highlights.

That’s both the strength and the weakness of the film. Some of this footage is as remarkable as anything seen on the Discovery Channel, or a National Geographic special, but each time a creature is investigated, we learn only enough to know we would really like to learn more… and then we’re on to the next bit of nature. But there is a method to this madness. The theme of God of Wonders is straight out of Romans 1:19-20: God has revealed Himself in the wonder of his creation. If we reject God, we can’t claim we did so out of ignorance – God, through his creation has left us “without excuse.”

Cautions

The pacing is a little slow, with maybe a few too many talking heads, compared to the nature footage, but once we’re about ten minutes in, it gets rolling. That does mean, though, that even as this would be a great film to watch with a questioning friend – it could be a wonderful evangelistic tool – it won’t work if that friend isn’t at least a little patient.

Conclusions

For families used to watching documentaries, this will be another fun one to check out. The breadth of this presentation means there’s sure to be something new to learn for everyone watching, from the youngest to the oldest.

You can watch itfor free in two different ways. It is available in “chapters” on the film’s own website GodofWondersvideo.org/chapters.htm. The advantage to watching it in chunks is that it’ll create the breaks needed for good discussions. But if you want to watch it for free in one go, you can find it (probably for only a limited time) here at the YouTube channel Christian Movies.

Check out the trailer below.

Free film: Is Genesis History?

Documentary
100 min / 2017
RATING: 8/10

This is a guest post by Marty Van Driel

We live and breathe and move in an atmosphere that is full of assumptions. We assume that what we see is how things have always been. And our friends and colleagues at work assume that scientists have disproved the Bible. And even if we know better, we hear so often that the earth is the product of millions and billions of years of slow erosion and evolution, those assumptions can impact us too – we can begin to wonder, “Is it crazy to believe that this planet is only 6,000 years old, that God made all of this in just six days?”

Is Genesis History? is a film that can help to quell those voices of doubt, the voices that ask, “Did God really say?”  Like thoughtful Christian apologetics, this movie can give us confidence that it is logical and entirely defensible for a modern person to fully believe that God’s Word describes historical events and real people.

Narrator Del Tackett opens the documentary showing a series of beautiful rock formations and deep canyons, and wonders aloud how many years these magnificent sites took to develop. We might assume thousands or even millions. But no – he reveals that the landscape around him was formed in just a few months, after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980! This is a powerful illustration of just how our observations are colored by our preconceptions.

Throughout the film, Tackett speaks with various PhD-holding scientists about their areas of expertise, and often in the midst of beautiful scenery. These passionate and articulate scholars contrast two major competing views of history: the conventional view that all we see around us developed over billions of years, and the Biblical view that points to a young earth in which God acted directly and with incredible power to create and form the world.

Many of these experts point to the great Flood that covered the whole earth as an explanation for the geological formations we can observe in the Grand Canyon for example, and for the way that fossils appear intact and often in groups and herds. The massive power of the waters below, bursting forth, and the windows of heaven opening, caused enormous changes to the earth, killing most life. The flood was universal and catastrophic and awesome in its destructive power, and its effects can be seen all over the world still today – if you have eyes to see it!

The format of Is Genesis History? consisting of questions and answers filmed in interesting locations, with helpful illustrations, makes it easy to understand and engaging. It probably won’t keep the attention of younger children, but middle school students on up to senior citizens will enjoy and benefit from this film. I can see this movie being beneficial for our young people’s societies, and the producers have made available free study and discussion material at their website www.IsGenesisHistory.com. This is a great film that encourages us to view the Bible as accurate history, and is a timely reminder that God’s Word is true yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And right now you can watch it for free on YouTube below:

Further discussion

Other reviews

Tim Challies
Douglas Wilson
WORLD magazine

Paul Nelson controversy

One of the interviewees in the film, Paul Nelson, while a 6-day creationist, is also a major figure in the Intelligent Design movement. He didn’t like how he came out in the film, and explains why here. Del Tackett, film narrator and producer, responds here. Todd Wood, another interviewee, also has some thoughts here.

Biologos and response

Biologos is a group that seeks to promote an evolutionary worldview in Christian circles. They didn’t like the film, and posted a critique here. Creation Ministries responded here.

This review first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Free film: Genesis impact

Docudrama
68 minutes / 2020
RATING: 7/10

This is a very good…something. The topic matter is plain enough – human origins – but what’s less clear is whether this is a documentary or drama.

The beginning is standard documentary: apologist Ray Comfort, just off camera, interviewing college students about their views on evolution.

But when the camera pulls back we discover these interviews are actually a smartphone’s 3-D holographic projections being viewed by a teen boy sitting on the edge of his couch (presumably a decade or two into the future seeing as there’s no app for that quite yet). When mom wanders by to put away groceries, he shares his doubts about whether God really did create in just six days. “What if they’re right, and we’re wrong?” he asks, “I mean, the scientific evidence for evolution is pretty overwhelming. What if God…used evolution?” To answer his questions, mom takes us through another scene change, shifting back 20 years to modern day when she was still in school, listening to an origins lecture at a Natural History museum. When the speaker concludes and most of the other students leave the auditorium, the young mom-to-be stays behind to question, and eventually debate, the scientist/lecturer. That’s where we stay, along with a few student stragglers, listening to a well-reasoned critique of the lecturer’s evolutionary presentation. While Genesis Impact hardly has a plot, it still has plenty of drama as evolution and creationist go head-to-head over the next hour.

Genesis Impact shouldn’t be evaluated as a drama though. The acting is fine – solid enough not to get in the way, and better than many a Christian drama – but the young lady is far too knowledgeable, and the evolutionist lecturer far too reasonable (readily conceding her every good point) to be realistic. Fortunately, the filmmakers’ goal isn’t realism. They wanted to present a challenging, highly educational lecture on a pivotal topic, and they wanted to deliver it in a really unique and entertaining manner. Mission accomplished!

Caution

While the topic matter is the sort you might want to share with an atheist friend, that this is a staged debate – an acted out debate – provides the “out” any skeptic would take to dismiss it entirely, arguing that a real evolutionist would have had better responses, or wouldn’t have conceded so many points. So one caution would be that this isn’t one to win over an unsympathetic or hostile audience.

Conclusion

What makes it valuable is that the creationist critique is a really good one. Evolutionary proofs aren’t so overwhelming as it seems, with guesses built on assumptions, stacked atop beliefs. Secular science presents their conclusions as being unassailable, though sometimes the hype is as much the fault of the media as the scientists. Even when researchers couch their guesswork with phrases like “could be” and “might” and “probably” the media is likely to trumpet “Evidence of life has been found on Mars!” in 36-point front-page headlines.  Still, the same sort of unwarranted certainty can be found in Natural History displays, and in university classrooms, so evolutionary arrogance isn’t simply a mainstream media invention.

Who should see Genesis Impact? It’s best suited for bible-believing Christians who are interested in, or troubled by, evolutionary accounts. It’ll be an encouragement and could serve as a leap-off point for further study. The depth of the material discussed also means this is best suited for college-age and up.

You can watch it for free below, and visit the film’s website to dig deeper: GenesisApologetics.com/Impact.