Friday, January 12, 2018
Ask the Beasts
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,[c] and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.
I have been reading Elizabeth Johnson's book Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love and it has stimulated lots of worthwhile pondering. Johnson is a theologian who is also a Roman Catholic nun -- or should that be the other way around? The book was inspired by theological conversations at the time of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. In it Johnson interweaves reflections on Darwin, references to the Nicene Creed, and consideration of how the God of Creation relates to all living things. The publication of Species was a world-changing event, not only within science but in Judeo-Christian theology and the practice of faith as well. At the time the concept of creation as the agency of the Creator was the norm, even for scientists. While ideas were developing about natural selection and evolution they were presented with a degree of caution. Darwin and his contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace presented very similar papers on the subject and Darwin hurried to publication.
Johnson is an admirer of Darwin despite the fact that he studied for the Anglican priesthood early in life but became an agnostic over time. Her book pursues the reconciliation many Christians have made between a trust in God as the initial creative energy of the universe and the wondrous diversity of creatures and their interdependence. The title of her book is a phrase from the Hebrew scriptures and the parable of Job. In many respects Darwin did listen to and learn from the creatures he observed both in his home environment and during his momentous voyage on the Beagle. They told him a story of the development of life which we now accept as the best explanation for what is all around us.
This said, I was fascinated to read a couple of days ago about discoveries which suggest that butterflies and moths developed their prosboscises - tongues -- long before the emergence of flowering plants. It has been assumed that the tongues developed simultaneously with flowers as an adaptation for survival. So why then did moths and butterflies develop those long tongues if it wasn't an evolutionary adaptation? I can hear the young Earth Creationists exclaiming "aha, we told you so!," although this new work certainly doesn't support their general assumptions.
I suppose the key is for us to be open, to "behold" the intricate world around us, to marvel at its beauty, and to do whatever we can to "live with respect in Creation."