Our family has had several dogs over the years, but I think Monty is the best. He’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, presently about 8 months old. He’s smart and easily trained. Monty is loving, sociable, playful, and always eager to please. But even more than that, the other day I was admiring him and the thought occurred to me: this dog is a work of art. But if that’s the case, who is the artist?
You might be tempted, as I was, to answer with God. After all, didn’t God create all the animals? If dogs are animals, then God must have created dogs too. That answer might make sense for anyone who believes what the Bible says about creation. But things are actually not that simple. Let me explain how God didn’t create dogs, yet is still ultimately responsible for their existence.
When God created “the beasts of the earth” on the sixth day, there were no Cavalier King Charles Spaniels among them. In fact, there were no Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, or any spaniels at all. There were no German Shepherds, Labradors, or any other dog breed we’re familiar with today. When God created the land animals at the beginning, he created a pair of four-legged creatures which are the ancestors of all the dogs we know today. This pair was also the ancestor of wolves and dingoes. Latent within the DNA of that original canine pair was a host of possibilities.
A combination of natural selection and selective breeding was what led to the canine diversity we see today. It’s especially the latter which has led to the numerous dog breeds of the present day. Selective breeding means that a human being directs the process. A human being chooses to breed animals with certain traits. If you want to produce a dog breed with floppy ears (like a spaniel), you focus your efforts on breeding males and females with progressively floppier ears. But one of the key things is that this isn’t an unguided process. There’s intelligence and forethought behind it.
Now I know that the breeding of dogs is an imperfect endeavour. Just to take the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, this breed is susceptible to a whole host of genetic health problems. This is because breeding necessarily involves genetic mutations and many of these can be harmful. Responsible breeders will, however, take measures to mitigate the risks and produce the healthiest dogs possible.
So to get back to the question: who is the artist responsible for this beautiful work of art named Monty? God is certainly responsible for creating the “raw material,” if you will. He created Monty’s canine ancestor on the sixth day. But God also created two human beings on that same day. He created them in his image, with the capacity to do such amazing things as selectively breed animals. Sometimes this breeding was purely for utilitarian purposes, but at other times for purposes that can only be described as artistic, bringing out certain features that appear beautiful. That’s how generations of human breeders through generations of dog breeding created the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Yet it would never have been possible without God’s creative genius in the first place. Ultimately he still receives the praise.
Last week I completed Tasmania’s epic South Coast Track. This 85 km track is renowned for its rugged wilderness, unpredictable weather, steep ascents and descents, and knee-deep mud. It also happens to spotlight some of this Australian state’s wildlife treasures. For example, it’s thought that there are only about 50 orange-bellied parrots left in the wild. Yet, soon after stepping off the plane at the trailhead in Melaleuca, we spotted two juveniles. A couple of days later, trekking through rain forest, we came across several Bassian thrushes. There’s some remarkable lore around this bird.
The Bassian thrush is a medium-sized relative of the most-well known thrush in North America: the American robin. It’s also related to the common or Eurasian blackbird, native to Europe and introduced to Australia. However, the Bassian thrush is native to Down Under, occurring in the Eastern states from Queensland down to Tasmania. While it’s not endangered, it is shy and I’d never seen one before until the South Coast Track.
I first heard about it on another Tasmanian walk, the Three Capes Track. In one of the huts, the Parks and Wildlife Service had left a booklet with fun bits of trivia about Tasmanian wildlife. It said the Bassian thrush was known for a special hunting technique: it farts on the ground and then picks off the critters who get scared to the surface. According to what I read, this was an entirely unique ability amongst birds.
Being the curious type, I’ve done some research to sniff out the truth. In 1983 a study was published in the South Australian Ornithologist. J.S.L. Edington reported seeing this behaviour amongst a population of Bassian thrushes in South Australia. He repeatedly observed “a noise similar to a jet of air and somewhat louder (clearly audible at five metres and lasting less than 0.25 sec.) than the bird’s footfalls was produced immediately after stopping and was in turn, followed by probingor more hopping.”A follow-up study some years later verified Edington’s findings.
Did we see, hear (or smell) this percussive hunting technique on the South Coast Track? Regrettably, no. In fact, some ornithologists doubt they even do it. Certainly it’s incredibly rare for birds to pass gas. Besides chickens, no other birds are definitively known to do it. Digestion usually happens so quickly in birds that there’s no time for gasses to build up. In Edington’s study, however, he hypothesized that the behaviour was caused by the birds gulping air quickly, rather than expelling gasses related to digestion.
It could be that this story is just blowing a bunch of hot air. But if it’s true (I’d like to think it is!), it’s another example of the zany creation around us and the wonderfully creative God behind it. He’s certainly gifted birds with the ability to sing in beautiful and diverse ways – and perhaps he’s even endowed some to use flatulence to get food in their beaks.
Stephen C. Meyer’s Return of the God Hypothesis continues to receive accolades. Most recently, World magazine chose it as one of their 2021 books of the year. On Amazon, it’s currently the #1 best-seller under “Creationism” and #4 under “Science & Religion.” This is an important and influential book coming out of the Intelligent Design movement. However, from a biblical perspective, it has several glaring problems.
The subtitle reads, “Three Scientific Discoveries that Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe.” Those three “discoveries” are: the Big Bang, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the existence of highly-detailed DNA information. Meyer works with these “discoveries” to argue for the eminent plausibility of the “God hypothesis.”
I’m not qualified to evaluate the scientific evidence for the Big Bang. However, I do know that Big Bang cosmology is not consistent with the biblical account of origins. Rather than explain the details of how and why myself, I’ll leave that to Christian astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle:
A Bible-believing Christian can’t use something that contradicts the Bible in order to argue for the likelihood of the existence of God. That brings us down to two scientific discoveries.
When arguing for the “God hypothesis” with DNA information, Meyer makes his case using what’s called “deep time.” Contrary to what the Bible indicates, Meyer believes the earth has a history involving hundreds of millions of years. In fact, chapter 10 is entitled, “The Cambrian and Other Information Explosions.” The Cambrian explosion allegedly took place 530 million years ago. As the story goes, this involves an explosion of new life forms in the fossil record. Meyer argues that this also represents an explosion of biological information. It poses a difficulty for materialistic theories of biological evolution, but could possibly “also provide positive evidence for intelligent design” (p.209). However, for a Bible-believing Christian, the problem is that God said he created the heavens and the earth at the beginning (Gen. 1:1) – and Jesus said that God created Adam and Eve at the beginning (Matt. 19:4). If you subsequently take the genealogies of Scripture seriously, even granting some gaps, you’re left with a world with an age on the order of thousands of years, not millions.
Now before I get to the most serious issues with The Return of the God Hypothesis, let me say that Bible-believing Christians can get some value out of it. Some of the value comes when Meyer is critiquing materialist scientists. For example, Stephen Hawking is quoted, “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.” But Meyer points out that “causes and scientific laws are not the same things…The laws of physics represent only our descriptions of nature. Descriptions in themselves do not cause things to happen” (p.371). There’s yet more value in Meyer’s critique of theistic evolutionists like Deborah Haarsma of BioLogos. I appreciate his setting the historical record straight on Isaac Newton and his alleged “God-of-the-gaps blunder.” Finally, Meyer illustrates how materialist scientists and philosophers live contrary to the beliefs they profess to hold. For example, David Hume put the uniformity of nature into question, yet acted as though he believed in it (p.441). Alvin Plantinga pointed out how, if evolutionary naturalism is true, “we have significant reason to doubt the reliability of our minds” (p.445). Yet no one really does. To do so would ultimately be self-defeating, since we would also have to doubt our beliefs about evolutionary naturalism. This is a good example of answering a fool according to his folly (Prov. 26:5).
My two biggest beefs with Return of the God Hypothesis have to do with the method of argumentation and the conclusion which results. There are these three scientific discoveries mentioned earlier. Meyer incorporates these discoveries into what’s called an abductive argument for the existence of God. Such an argument works by way of inference to the best explanation. It takes this form:
Logic: If A were true, then C would be as a matter of course.
Data: The surprising fact C is observed.
Conclusion: Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.
Filling it out, it looks something like this:
Logic: If a personal God existed, then DNA information would be as a matter of course.
Data: The surprising fact of DNA information is observed.
Conclusion: Hence, there is reason to suspect that a personal God exists.
One of the crucial things to note here is that the “logic of abduction…does not produce certainty, but instead plausibility or possibility” (p.224). This tentativeness is reflected throughout Meyer’s book. His argument is ultimately that “the God hypothesis” is possibly the best explanation of the three scientific “discoveries” discussed. So: a personal God quite likely exists.
From a biblical perspective, this is unacceptable. The Bible doesn’t reveal the existence of God to us as a likelihood, but a certainty. His existence is real and everyone knows it (Rom. 1:18-20). Furthermore, the idea that God is a hypothesis to be tested or evaluated by sinful creatures is repugnant to biblical revelation. The creature ought never to stand in judgment over the Creator or reduce him to a hypothesis. As I was reading Return of the God Hypothesis, the words of D.A. Carson from this old video clip kept ringing in my ears:
Carson is quite right: human beings have no right to judge God’s existence. The whole premise of Meyer’s book flatters people into thinking they do have such a right. That’s not a minor procedural peccadillo, but a massive misstep, even an affront to the Creator.
Meyer’s conclusion has another problem embedded in it. He argues for the plausibility of the existence of a personal God. In chapters 13 and 14, his reasoning excludes pantheism and deism as possibilities. That leaves him with a God who is personal and involved with his creation, not only at the beginning, but on an ongoing basis. But the problem is that this is still not the God of the Bible. Meyer’s God who very likely exists could be the Allah of the Muslims, the God of the Jews, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the Mormons. What we’re left with is plain vanilla theism. Meyer has argued for a god, but not the Triune God of the Bible, and certainly not for the biblical worldview package. Meyer professes to be a Christian, but this book could just as well have been written by a Jew.
Ultimately all the problems in Return of the God Hypothesis trace back to one fundamental difficulty in Meyer’s method: he doesn’t start with the Word of God. Instead, he starts with the notion of neutral intellectual ground. He doesn’t seem to apprehend that the problem with unbelief isn’t intellectual, but moral. There is no neutrality. Those who reject the God of the Bible are rejecting him because of the wicked rebellion in their hearts. It’s this foundational issue that really needs to be addressed. Meyer doesn’t do that. In his book, there’s no sin from which unbelievers need to repent. There’s just errant thinking that needs more information and sounder logic. In his book, there’s no Saviour to whom unbelievers need to turn, no gospel to deliver from vanity and futility. There’s just science and logic putting our minds at ease about origins. I bought Return of the God Hypothesis in a Christian bookstore, but I really don’t know why it was there. Even if Christians may find some things of value, it’s not a Christian book.
Note: for a biblical alternative, I highly recommend Jason Lisle’s The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate. You can read my review here.
Is it a mammal or a reptile? And why does it have a bill like a duck and a tail like a beaver? When the first platypus specimens were brought to England from Australia in 1798, scientists thought they were a hoax. They’d been fooled before by concocted “mermaid” specimens from Asia and that wasn’t going to happen twice. But eventually credible observations and research proved the reality of this bewildering creature.
Sadly, many Australians have never seen a platypus in the wild. Part of that is attributable to their range being limited to the eastern states and Tasmania. Even many residents of those states have never encountered this duck-billed curiosity. Being a fly-fisherman means I spend a lot of time in Tasmanian creeks and rivers. That’s led me to frequent platypus encounters. On one occasion, a platypus was digging for food in the riverbed almost right at my feet. Last year, in a tiny little headstream creek I met my first baby platypus. He could have fit in the palm of my hand. So platypuses aren’t as rare as you might think – it’s just a matter of being in the right place.
Eventually scientists classified platypuses as mammals. However, they were placed in a special category known as monotremes. The only other monotreme is the echidna, another Aussie oddity. Monotremes have one opening used for both reproduction and elimination of waste. This opening is called a cloaca, similar to birds. From this cloaca, again like birds, platypuses lay eggs about the size of an acorn. However, unlike birds, platypuses nurse their young with milk like mammals.
The features of the platypus get even stranger. It’s one of just a few venomous mammals. The male platypus has a spur on its back legs that it uses to inject venom. While no humans are known to have died from a platypus encounter, there are dogs that have met their demise in this way. Regardless, getting spurred by a platypus is reportedly an intensely painful experience. So, unless you can definitively tell a male apart from a female, resist that temptation to lift a furry platypus out of the water!
And what about that duck bill? If you have a close encounter with a platypus, you’ll see that it’s covered in pores. These pores are electro-sensitive. When small prey move along the riverbed, they create electric currents with their muscles. Platypuses have eyes, but they’re closed underwater. Instead, they use their electro-sensitive duck bills to not only find their way around, but also to find their food.
There’s one type of person for whom the platypus is the most perplexing: the evolutionist. They just don’t know what to do with this animal. It has some features like a bird, others like a reptile, and others like a mammal. How did it evolve? Where are the transitional forms in the fossil record? Evolutionists at first believed it to be a “primitive” animal representing a living transitional form between reptiles and mammals. But when research uncovered the electro-sensitive pores in their bills, they had to conclude that it was, in fact, “highly evolved.” Yet they find platypus specimens in the fossil record which they allege date back millions of years. Research into the platypus genome has uncovered even more perplexities for evolutionists.
For a Bible-believing Christian, the platypus is an amazing example of our God’s creative imagination. Though he often appears to have used templates for creating certain animal groups, he decided to do something quite different with the platypus, giving it an electro-sensitive duck-bill, webbed front feet, venomous spurs on the hind feet, egg-laying, and a beaver-like tail. It’s almost as if God meant to create something unconventional just to leave us scratching our tiny human heads. Beyond perplexed, surely he meant to leave us in wonder at his playful artistry.
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.