Friday, April 12, 2013

ID at the Coffee Table

What sort of book could be considered a “Coffee Table” volume? Some books so designated may be considered superficial in content and geared more to the entertainment value they provide. Others are volumes with snippets of general reader interest. Still others blend skilled photography with appealing narrative. Coffee table volumes often serve to highlight the activities of special artisans with unique skills.

Recently we were the recipient of the ultimate coffee table occupant meant to entertain our grandchildren for the next several years on visits to their grandparents. The 2012 edition National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia touts itself as having “more animals, more photos, and more fun than any other animal book you’ve ever encountered.” Generally unswayed by hyperbole, after carefully thumbing through this National Geographic production, I acknowledge the worthiness of their self-accorded praise.

The Animal Encyclopedia features vertebrate phyla such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish, and a smaller section including invertebrates. Only 3% of the world’s animals are the five vertebrates named above. It is common knowledge that animal life includes multiple other biological phyla. A volume such as the Animal Encyclopedia includes the most recognizable vertebrate species almost any young person or coffee table reader could identify as well as hundreds of more exotic animals. This does not include many members of unfamiliar animal phyla.

Let’s approach our coffee table book from a unique vantage point. Without becoming excessively descriptive, we must describe its entertainment, artistic, and instructional value as superb. My personal appreciation of this book, however, exceeds its value of entertainment, art, and instruction. The 300-page Animal Encyclopedia is a paragon of intelligent design authored by God, the Creator of all life forms. I challenge my readers to digest this volume without experiencing the overwhelming impression that all life forms manifest design features requiring an explanation far beyond naturalistic random chance. Features of the animals pictured and described in the Encyclopedia--their physical, bio-chemical, neurological, and adaptational characteristics, for example--trigger a subjective, intuitive awareness of the reality of design by an intelligent agent.

The Encyclopedia was a gift to us for the entertainment and instruction it would provide our grandchildren, not to mention the instructional review it provides for their former science educator grandparent. When warm weather outdoor activities are abbreviated by seasonal darkness and cold, the Encyclopedia will provide entertainment in future years as have the Audubon Society Field Guides and audio of Bird Songs from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

After Moses received the Ten Commandments he devoted considerable instructional time insuring that the Israelites would apply God’s principles and commandments across the spectrum of their daily experience. Deuteronomy 11:19 counsels God’s people to “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Along with the law committed to Moses, the Israelites knew the declaration of Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Surely this truth was foundational. One may imagine creative Israelite fathers interpreting this passage for their sons and daughters in modern parlance: In the beginning God intelligently designed everything, including all the animals.

We possess more information to heighten awareness of the spectacular ordered design and functionality of living things than ever before in human history. Wise parents may teach their children ubiquitous design features in the world of living things as they walk along the road or sit at home, as they lie down in the evening or get up in the morning. In the 21st century we are gifted with ability to identify design and the divine Designer more effectively than ever.