Friday, July 29, 2011

Something to Crow About

Biologists who endorse neither intelligent design nor theistic acts of creation along the cosmic timeline may nonetheless marvel at the wonder of living things--their structure and their function. For those who are interested in science there are two levels of study. First, we observe the appearance and behavior of the life around us. Second, we study their biochemical characteristics, including their genetic makeup. Our inquiries trigger deeper questions about why the animals have their unique characteristics, how their inheritance is passed along, and the history of that particular species. Whether we are students of behavior or biochemistry, the living things around us provide plenteous fascination.

Residential neighborhoods provide an abundant supply of wonder-provoking creatures if we take time and effort to discover and study them. This spring I was reaffirmed in my admiration for crows, a bird some may despise. Even if we believe they are not the most beautiful members of the animal world, we may agree with the New World Encyclopedia claim: “With their intelligence and unique behavior, they add to the wonder of nature for humans.” In my youth I recall the distrust neighborhood farmers had for crows and their omnivorous penchant for consumption of some favored crops and seeds. In reality, their eating habits were probably more blessing than bane.

Last spring I observed a group of about a dozen crows in my neighborhood. They repeatedly swooped down from the taller trees in our yard and headed deliberately toward a single, unknown spot concealed in our back woods. I never located the exact spot, but I believe the area became their nursery. They were preparing a colonial nesting site. Older siblings sometimes assist in nest building and feeding of young. Over several weeks I listened to their diverse vocalizations and watched their playful mid-air jousting sessions. They were obviously entertaining themselves. We shared their joie de vivre. I observed their sedate search of our lawn and driveway for dietary variety, and watched from my office window while they tentatively drank at our birdbath. After a few weeks we heard adolescent crow vocalizations and later observed a few parental tutorials on our house roof.

Crows are an integral part of our ecosystem. They have been known to fashion and use tools and can be trained to imitate the human voice. Many years ago I captured a young specimen for a friend who wanted a unique pet. Fear of crows owing to their size and color is unwarranted. Their talents, intelligence, and usefulness should arouse our admiration instead.

Many animals manifest the quality of “soulishness.” Reasons to Believe founder Hugh Ross states, “Soulish life includes creatures in which God endowed mind, will, and emotions so that they can form relationships with members of their own species as well as with human beings. God designed soulish animals so that each kind serves and/or pleases humanity in its own distinct way.” In Genesis 1 there are three instances where Hebrew bara is used to indicate the performance of transcendent miracles. God originated something entirely new which did not exist before--the creation of the universe, the creation of soulish animals, and the creation of human beings in the image of God. Different categories of living things have one or more of these qualities: physical existence, soulish life, and spiritual being.

All living things have intricate structure and functionality. In addition, some animals have soulishness to enrich our lives and entertain us. Finally, only humans have spirit, the imago dei, the ability to discover and form a relationship with God. We are told of the transcendent creation of this quality in Genesis 1:26-27. We rejoice in the familiar verbal sequence “body, soul, and spirit” to describe humanity, the pinnacle of God’s creation activity described in God’s word.

Theologians focus on the nature of God and human efforts to relate to Him. Scientists are more interested in the physical universe and its life forms. They have difficulty grasping the nature of soulishness in animals such as our neighborhood crows. That quality is not reducible to simple descriptions of material matter and molecules in motion. Certainly, the quality of spirit, possessed only by humans, is beyond the ability of science to analyze or describe. We may, however, contemplate soulishness and spirituality and be persuaded of the reality of the origin of each in a transcendent, divine miracle.