Friday, December 23, 2016

Gifts to Men

Scripture passages found in Psalm 68:18 and Ephesians 4:8, God gave gifts to men, were intended to highlight spiritual gifts such as prophesying, evangelism, pastoring, or teaching. The Bible, after all, is primarily a textbook of spiritual gifts given to man: righteous living, pleasing God, and the ultimate gift of redemption from sin through Jesus Christ. The concept of God’s gifts to men has applications exceeding these well known spiritual gifts addressed in scripture. 

Many other gifts to men are referenced in the context of the Old and New Testament. The food provided by God for the original couple in the Garden of Eden was a gift addressed in several places in the brief Genesis 1-3 account. Seed-bearing plants and every tree with seed in it “will be yours for food.” Every green plant was also a nutritional gift provided for the beasts of the earth. The Genesis chapters refer to plant products that were “good for food.” Animal nutrition depended on plants. Plant life was ultimately at the base of the food chain. Animals are located above plants at various “trophic levels” relating to energy transfers along the food chain. If animal life is consumed we may say we are indirectly consuming plants provided by the Creator as food. (There was one God-commanded restriction relating to plant food which served to test and prove the couple’s obedience to the Creator. Scripture tells us they miserably failed the obedience test.)

Not until Genesis 9:1-3 did scripture explicitly mention meat as consumable after Noah’s flood. In one sense this may have been a sort of science lesson on trophic levels of the well-known food chains we study in biology classes. “Everything that lives or moves will be food for you” (Gen. 9:3). It is likely that humans had consumed meat before this time. We doubt these verses imply vegetarianism was in effect either by divine command or by personal preference. New Testament Christians were permitted to eat either vegetables or meat, according to their own conscience or taste and nutritional preferences.

We might propose that plant and animal life was “waiting” in some sense for the beginnings of the agricultural revolution about 10,000 BC. Even though a modicum of agriculture had begun in the several millennia prior to the agricultural revolution, the full-fledged revolution began at approximately 10,000 BC. It is fascinating to analyze human nutrition in the thousands of years prior to the revolution. Undomesticated plants and animals were less appealing as food if we compare our foods with theirs. The fruit of plants was more difficult to find and possessed limited variety. Meat of wild animals was leaner and gamier, but our ancient forbears were probably happy with their food supply. Prehistoric taste testers did not have basis for comparison with our modern domesticated foods. Some writers even pose the possibility that prior to the agricultural revolution human food was healthier compared with our modern fare.

Historians have identified eight “founder crops” originating in the Fertile Crescent early in the agricultural revolution, including barley, Einkorn wheat, Emmer wheat, and the legumes lentils, peas, and chickpeas. Later many hundreds of other plants were domesticated in both the Old and New Worlds. These included rice, potatoes, beans, squash, and maize (corn). In the thousands of years following the establishment of the eight founder crops, familiar plants including dates, grapes, bananas, olives, garlic, soybeans and dozens of other familiar food staples were subjected to domestication.

Well documented are the approximate dates of the development of animal domesticates. Canine species predate other animals. They arrived well before 14,000 BC. Sheep, cats, and goats were on the human scene before 8000 BC; pigs, cattle, and chickens before 6000 BC; horses and camels before 3000 BC; turkeys, geese, and ducks arrived before the time of Christ.

Let us review highlights of domestication. For animals it means development of morphological and behavioral changes resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship between animals and humans. Humans developed animals more reliable and compatible with humans. For plants they replaced many undesirable native characteristics. The domesticated plant often cannot survive without help from man in terms of propagation and harvesting. Many contemporary animals and plants now manifest the fascinating domestication syndrome (DS), a group of characteristics altering the organisms to produce desirable traits.

Domestication is the result of repeated application of artificial selection in animal and plant propagation over many generations. These simple human initiatives have effected surprising changes beneficial to humanity. Our last several posts have discussed the DS. Startling morphological and behavioral changes result from modifications of a minimal number of genes.   

The suite of characteristics inherent in the DS manifest in hundreds of domesticated animals and plants is a marvel of life on earth. Scientists strive to understand and explain these phenomena in a naturalistic context. They pride themselves on their description of plentiful molecular, morphological, and behavioral adaptations manifest in domesticated organisms. For their insightful descriptions they deserve praise, but often elaborate description stands in for adequate explanation.

We cite one example of geneticists' complex description of an embryonic event standing in for a true explanation. Biologists have proposed that mild neural crest cell (NCC) deficits during embryonic development are responsible for the domestication syndrome. Neural crest cells are a band of specialized cells lying along the outer surface of each section of the neural tube in early stages of embryonic development. Many comments about the NCC role in the domestication syndrome resemble this statement: “Most of the modified traits, both morphological and physiological, can be readily explained as direct consequences of such deficiencies.” But are the hidden processes of domestication really explained? or merely described as causative?

We propose that domestication phenomena are divine gifts to men. We cannot explain the totality of our physical world and its complex manifestations merely as the outcome of naturalistic processes. Many naturalistic scientists stumble at the inability of creationist scientists to explain many phenomena according to the principles of naturalism: “No supernatural Creator is necessary!” they affirm. 

Belief in God is strengthened virtually everywhere we look. The more we study the workings of the world around us, the more we understand the world has been authored by a supernatural Creator. The ability of humans to apply scientific principles of discovery and innovation to enhance the experience of human life is also a gift to men. Animal and plant domestication are examples. God endowed humanity with the ability to discover and apply its principles—its causes and its effects—at the appropriate moment in humanity’s history. Ultimately there are some explanations of processes leading from causes to effects which exist only in the mind of God.