Saturday, July 23, 2011

Avian Ownership

Our Creator provides multiple occasions for worship experiences. Sunday church is but one of those opportunities. Many others present themselves to the alert, thoughtful observer.

Last summer a friend visited our northwest Illinois home with her three young boys. We live in a unique geologic area called the Driftless area, so named because it was not blanketed by ice during the last episode of continental glaciation. It is devoid of glacial “drift” -- material left behind by a past glacial event; hence, we call this the “Driftless area.”

I’ve referred to our neighborhood as “bird heaven.” My young visitors were curious about a songbird insistently repeating the same four phrases on a single dead branch above our garage. The male indigo bunting was one of “my birds,” I told the boys. In a real sense, I may claim all the joy-giving birds in my neighborhood as my own. Each species has its own set of behavioral characteristics as well as its own unique physical appearance, setting itself apart from all other avian species. Information from bird manuals and web search engines plentifully supplement our own personal observations.

“My” indigo bunting was not present and singing when my young friends visited again early this spring. But lo, after a few weeks, there he was again, perched on the identical bare hickory branch as last summer. I cannot be positive this summer’s bird was the same as last summer’s resident. But if it wasn’t, it is certain that particular hickory branch has a special appeal for male indigo buntings. Their vivid, iridescent blue is visible only in sunlight. Its apparent color results from light diffraction through their feathers, not from blue pigment. Males leave nest-building and raising of the nearly helpless babies to the females while they patrol the neighborhood defending their territory, using their relentlessly repeated vocalizations.

This species does not spend the winter in the Driftless area. These migrants take off in September or October for parts known: the Caribbean or Central America. The birds use stars to migrate by night. Come spring, they know what to do. They return to their nesting grounds. I have identified many dozens of other bird species in our neighborhood. One neighbor claims to have identified 153 different. Our local conservation foundation bird watchers have exceeded that number substantially.

My personal worship experiences triggered by my neighborhood Driftless area birds are not exercises in nature worship. Intuitively, I see these experiences as occasions to worship God--the Creator and Designer. He authored the variety and beauty of our physical surroundings, both living and non-living. Skeptics pronounce this type of intuition flawed, irrational, and unpersuasive. Even the brilliant case made by Stephen C. Meyer in his 2009 volume Signature in the Cell, which carefully establishes the intelligent origin of information in the DNA of every living thing, including my own neighborhood birds, does not generate credence in those who deliberately choose to doubt. Acceptance or rejection of design theory is more a matter of personal choice than of the quality of evidence. Meyer states, “None of the alleged logical errors involved in inferring intelligent design from DNA would prevent any reasonable person from inferring or detecting the activity of intelligent agents in any other realm of experience.”

No life scientist would disagree that the structure of DNA in an indigo bunting, or any living creature is related to its remarkably unique appearance and behavior. Scientists who reject creation and design often express wonder and enjoyment, even if they reject belief in design theory and the Designer. But if their wonder and enjoyment helped them appreciate the action of the Designer instead of a naturalistic process, their experience would be enriched. Instead of worship of nature, they could worship nature’s Designer.