Feedback archive → Feedback 2010
Creation articles stir deep thinking
We frequently find that our articles on the origins issue stir people into deep thinking, raising many questions and objections in peoples’ minds—not just from people ‘hostile’ to young-earth creation but also from those who are ‘friendly’. Our chosen feedback for this week is an example of the latter. United States correspondent Sarah A. wrote to CMI about a number of issues, both theological and technical. Upon receiving Dr Carl Wieland’s detailed reply, she promptly sent another email delving deeper, providing opportunity for Carl to provide even more valuable “teaching points” in response.
As this is quite a lengthy feedback, we simply present Sarah’s two letters in succession below (green font, indented), with Carl’s responses (black font, non-indented) interspersed throughout.
Thanks for your very polite yet forthright and detailed letter. I will try to answer by interspersing my responses with yours.
Dear people of Creation Ministries International,
I have some comments about your website, as well as a question about ethics from a Christian, pro-life viewpoint. I was unsure whether I should submit this email under scientific or theological feedback/question, because this email straddles both topics. For this reason I am submitting it under other questions/comments. I hope this does not cause you any inconvenience.
I am a high school student, and my main areas of knowledge and interest are herpetology and zoology. I have actually written to you before about a (mostly) unrelated topic involving snakes, and got a good reply.
That’s good to hear, I’m glad we could be of help.
I would like to make it clear that I am a Christian and believe in Biblical Creation. I believe that God created the world in six days, populated the world with plants and animals, and created Adam and Eve unrelated to the primates. I believe that the created kinds of plants and animals have genetic barriers that limit the amount of change that is possible, and thus, have not evolved from a common ancestor. I also believe that no new information that wasn’t somewhere in the genes of the created kinds can be added to the genes naturally. (Genetic engineering such as is done with “GM” vegetables is an exception, but still has an intelligent designer, the scientist, working with material already created by God. I don’t think designing “GM” plants or animals, and definitely humans, is a good idea, but that has little to do with this email.) I believe that Satan came to the Garden of Eden and tempted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This sin was the beginning of man’s fallen nature and all death and imperfection in the world, such as disease, animals hurting people or each other, etc. Years later God sent a global flood because of sin, that was only survived by Noah, his family, the animals in the Ark, and some plants and water creatures (fish, whales, etc.) that were able to survive the deluge. Man became pretty numerous on earth again, after which the incident at Babel occurred causing the original language differences and the scattering of man over the earth. I also believe salvation comes through Jesus, who came to earth fully God and fully man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again alive on the third day. In short, I believe the basic Christian and Creationist beliefs.
One would wish that everyone could state their position so clearly, boldly and succinctly.
Some of the comments I have about your site are positive and some are negative. The negative ones may not be the easiest things to hear, but please be assured that I am not anti-creationist, as I am one myself.
Please read and consider the whole thing. I hope that I will not offend anybody.
They say that Australians on average are not as easily offended as some other nationalities. Let’s see if that’s so.
I will start with the positive comments. I find your website very informative. It is very important to me that there is Creation information out there, especially because of the heavy evolutionary content that is in a lot of the information available on my own areas of study. Sometimes secular animal information resources have subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) anti-Christian messages as well. I also consider your website to be fairly user-friendly. It is easy to send an email, there is no length limit, and you do reply. That is a courtesy that I wish all groups running Creation websites would have. That said, I hope you are not inconvenienced by the length of this email.
It’s one of the longer ones, I’ll admit. But thanks for your patience in giving us time to reply.
Your website rightly denounces the evil system of eugenics, which have been used to “justify” racism, abortion, Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust, and other evils. Yet at the same time, there seems to be a heavy emphasis on degeneration, mutation, and defects in recent Creationist materials, including this website. The most obvious example of this that I know of is the article “Is Your Dog a Degenerate Mutant?”
I re-read that 1981 article from our web archives of Creation magazine. I took the author’s title to be a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek way of getting the point across that all things biological are degenerating, and that is the result of the Fall, with mutations accumulating.
I realize that most references to “degeneration” are referring to animals, which although not as bad as referring to humans that way, is still not a nice thing to say. I am guessing that nobody has “perfect” genes anymore, but articles putting such an emphasis on it are painful to read. I have what could be considered genetic “defects” myself. I hope you understand if I do not want to go into more detail about it for privacy reasons. What does it say to readers that have genetic “imperfections” when they read these articles?
Actually, your guess about imperfection is 100% right—everyone’s genes carry many, many of these accumulated copying mistakes. It’s only sometimes that they ‘show up’ so that one is aware of them, as our Creation Answers Book chapter on Cain’s wife explains. I want to be sensitive to your feelings in this matter, and regret that talking of such things might be painful in your situation. I’m not sure, though, that the best way of coping, long-term, with the many problems in life in this fallen world (of which inherited mutations is only one part) is for all of us to agree to only use nice words to somehow paint over the reality. I hope you see what I mean, and that I’m not trying to be sarcastic at all. I’m simply asking whether that would not become sort of a bit like pretending something is not real, or not facing up to a reality. Let me speak of myself, rather than yourself, as an example. I have, like everyone else, lots of inherited genetic defects (but they don’t show up visibly in me, so I don’t know which ones I happen to be carrying). But since a serious car accident in 1986, I also carry a number of physical defects that were not inherited, but acquired (in a hurry!). In short, I am moderately physically crippled. Now I can make that sound better by referring to myself as physically challenged or some such politically correct language, but it doesn’t change the reality, and in a sense, I wouldn’t like that; to me that makes it more obvious that people are beating around the bush. All of us have feelings that can be hurt, and they are very personal and precious things. They vary from person to person. What hurts one person will cause a chuckle in another. We certainly don’t want to be hurting feelings unnecessarily. But I would be really happy if after this letter is finished, you were to somehow understand that it’s easier for me to explain this to you, rather than continually filter all our terms in the off chance that someone with an inherited disorder will take it the wrong way. In fact, in my public speaking, whenever I do the bit in detail about Cain’s wife and inherited diseases, more often than not someone will come up to me and share about their own. I think that they can tell from hearing it directly that it’s not meant in any sort of offensive way, because not only do they never raise that concern, but more importantly, many say it has actually helped them. I.e. they can see it in a more light-hearted vein, and take consolation in the fact that we all have these defects, only theirs happen to have been overt. In my book and DVD Walking Through Shadows, I detail how keeping the biblical ‘big picture’ in mind made a big difference to my own coping, but one has to apply it. You have good head knowledge of these biblical truths, so it should be relatively easier for you than for some others to stand back and consider this big picture in relation to whatever problems you may have. And like the book says, there’s always a great deal to be thankful for. But—I digress, sorry, back on track.
What does it say to pet owners when they read the articles about dogs? “Degenerate mutant mutts” is how “pure bred” dogs are described in the above-mentioned article.
I would hope that most of them, even if there is a little ‘twinge’ at their beloved Fifi or Ruffles being described in those terms, would maybe even smile a little bit, realizing that the purpose is to transmit a profound biblical, worldview and scientific truth in a non-boring way. And that is an important aim, might I say. Scientific stuff tends to be boring to the average person.
I am not some sort of elitist that considers pure bred dogs better than mutts,
That’s good, because in any case one of the points of those sorts of articles is that genetically, pure-breds are actually inferior, in the sense that they have less variety in the population, less information.
and I have no problem with the word “mutt” when it is not being used as some sort of insult.
I understand. If it was an insult calculated to wound, or to denigrate or put down as such, that would be pertinent. Perhaps I need to explain a bit—the magazine was only about three years old at the time, and was for an Australian audience. In Australia, it is much easier for people to understand when an insult is used in a friendly way, a practice which is extremely common among friends—it is a mild form of what is known as “Aussie larrikinism”. I don’t seek to justify it, but it is deeply rooted in the culture and has to do with egalitarianism, sort of trying to level anybody who thinks too highly of themself. It’s sometimes known as ‘having a go’ and is not seen as derogatory to the person (or their pet) in a negative sense; it sort of treats them as important in a funny way. (O, it’s so hard to explain without it sounding like an excuse). But believe me that it is done with friendly intent. Fortunately, over the years, we’ve become just a bit more understanding of how this can be perceived from outside, and we probably would have modified the article just a bit if we had published it today.
However, if similar language to the above quote were used to describe a person or group of people it would be considered hate speech.
To most dog owners the dog is a member of the family, much like the kids are, and the article could have been written in a much kinder way. I am aware that some dog breeds are more susceptible to various disorders. I believe that this mainly comes from such things as the tendency of dog shows to favor the most “extreme” looking dogs, causing people to breed dogs for traits that are unhealthy.
There are various examples of breeds where the “show” type looks visibly different from the “working” type. There are also the factors of “puppy mills” and people who breed for things like bad temperament on purpose, like dogfighters. I am sorry to say that among some dog breeders there is even a canine form of eugenics. I have read an article in a dachshund magazine (my family has two dachshunds) that said that you should only buy a puppy that has several dog show-winning ancestors. I was appalled. But back to the original topic of Creation and “degeneration”.
I don’t think that change within the species or kind is always a bad thing from the Curse, because not only could change happen from groups of animals choosing a preferred habitat (short-haired, athletic dogs or doglike animals choosing warm, open plains, for example, because the habitat suits them, thus not necessarily involving “survival of the fittest”), but features that are not harmful in themselves (small size or uncamouflaged fur color, for example), but make the animal more vulnerable to predation or link to genes that are harmful may not have been that way in an unfallen world. An example would be if an animal had a coat color that made it hard to stalk prey and avoid being seen by its own predators, that would not be a problem without the Fall, because all animals were herbivores, or possibly insectivores, anyway. I understand that the world IS fallen, so this is only a hypothetical situation, but I believe it is also likely the way God made animals. I am now going to ask the ethics question because it relates to the above paragraph about “degeneration”. This will sound self-contradictory, but I am aware that genetic disorders and diseases that “run in families” do exist in both people and animals. What is the Christian view toward these things and their prevention? We already know that eugenics are morally wrong for many reasons. Yet there is the terrible quandary of that they seem to be the only prevention.
Also many Christians believe that the way each person is born is specifically designed by God, “defects” included. What should Christians think and/or do about this problem.
This is a very important, insightful and profound set of questions. I believe the best way to deal with it is by looking at the ‘big picture’ principles and examples in the Bible. We have indirectly addressed this sort of thing elsewhere, in relation to things like genetic engineering. I will go along this line for a bit, you’ll see how it relates to your question in due course.
If someone is born with a genetic defect, and technology exists to reverse the defect, should one oppose the gene engineering, because that’s how that person was designed, or should one permit/support it? Our answer is unequivocally to support it in principle. The great Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer referred to the play by Albert Camus, La Peste (The Plague) which presented the dilemma of a person torn between supporting those who fought the plague, and those who said we should accept it as ‘God’s will’. I.e. are we opposing God’s will in fighting disease, defects, etc—whether by antibiotics, or by gene engineering, or indeed by prevention, if we can? Schaeffer pointed out that this is only a dilemma for those who ignore the big picture of Genesis history—that the world was created perfect, and what we have now is not God’s ideal. And wherever people are engaged in opposing the effects of the Curse, this is regarded as blessed in Scripture. The Curse put man against man—but “blessed are the peacemakers”. The Curse brought disease and suffering, but the alleviation of suffering, supremely in Christ’s healing examples, is always regarded as a positive thing. In short, one can never be ‘fighting God’s will’ in fighting the Curse. Does that mean that God is impotent, letting things just happen? This gets into very deep questions of His sovereignty, and its different levels, and is not without mystery. Nothing ‘just happens’, and even the bad things must be within His sovereign will (someone has pointed out that even the devil works for God—see Job where he asked for permission, and see Jesus’ comment to the disciples that Satan had sought permission to sift them). But there is also God’s moral will, as revealed in Scripture. And acknowledging God’s sovereignty even in bad things like the Haiti earthquake does not mean that rescuing people trapped therein is opposing God’s will or purposes—far from it, it would be opposing God’s moral will NOT to do good where we have the chance. So back to genetic defects—to fight against that aspect of the Curse, we’ve already seen that reversing a defective gene by engineering is morally right. But a moral good cannot justify another moral evil. Therefore the abortion (= murder, the taking of innocent human life) of a child known to have a serious genetic defect is absolutely wrong, period.
So now to the issue of eugenics. It’s easy to answer “absolutely wrong” when that involves, as it did historically, the deliberate killing of people who carry such diseases. But what about the following example? Say there is a family who has had one child born with a very serious genetic disorder, and that child and the family are already suffering heavily. They seek genetic counselling and are informed that they have a 50:50 chance of their next child being born the same way if they have another child. So they decide not to have any more children, but to adopt instead. Call it part of the spectrum of ‘eugenics’, if you like, but I think that would be a misleading label. In any case, the issue is, are they opposing God’s will in doing so? I firmly believe not. God’s sovereignty transcends the wisdom or foolishness of our decisions, so the next question is, is it morally right? I believe that it could be argued that it is far more moral than to ‘take the chance and test God’ in a sense. Some would argue that it’s God’s business as He makes every child the way He wants. But to me that is a bit like saying that since we were given an appendix, it should not be removed if it becomes diseased—different issue, similar principle. It would be hard for me to argue with someone who were to say that parents who went on and took such a gamble with a child’s life were actually being selfish, but one would not want to judge motives and I sympathize deeply with folk in that dilemma. And such issues are only going to increase as we find out more and more about the genome. Also, most of the time, it will be even less clear-cut. (Is it ‘right’ if there is only a 10% chance? What about 1%?). So while not pretending that there are easy answers for individual situations, I think it’s clear that there are broad principles that can be of huge help in determining our responses, prayerfully and before the Lord, in each of those situations.
This has troubled my mind a long time, especially because I know what supporters of eugenics or “pro-choice” would likely say. It doesn’t help that animal raisers often openly support eugenics as the best thing for the animal.
This is awful to me because the genomes of humans and animals (heredity) seem to work the same basic way.
Yes, they do.
What is the Christian pro-life view? Any thoughtful answer to this question is welcome. (Please read my paragraph about animals and the “animal rights” movement first. I know that animals and humans are not on the same level, but animals still matter.)
I have something to say about animals and the “animal rights” movement relating to the CMI website. I notice a somewhat dismissive attitude toward animals and the people that love them on the website. I understand that cruelty to animals is never openly advocated on your website,
I’m pleased that that stands out, as we would never ever want to condone that.
but there are some things of concern. CMI mentions the dark side of the “animal rights” and environmental movements. These things are sometimes true. Sometimes there is extremism and irrationality involved with these movements. Some individuals are “pro-choice” or otherwise devalue human life. But CMI is concentrating on the unChristian aspects so much that the very real problems of cruelty to animals and endangered species are mostly overlooked. I am aware that God allows people to kill animals for certain reasons, although it was not that way before the Fall and will not be that way when all things are restored. No, I am not somebody that considers any use of an animal whatsoever to be cruel, but I believe factory farming, the fur/reptile skin trade, dissection, and testing on laboratory animals are cruel.
Certainly I would agree that sometimes it takes the ‘extremes’ in a movement for us Christians to realize the cruelty of some practices. There is at least one Bible passage that advocates kindness to animals. (Prov. 12:10: A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.) It’s noteworthy that societies strongly affected by the Bible have historically been at the forefront of banning cruelty to animals.
I am not asking you to believe the same as I do, just give the problem more notice even if you are highlighting the bad side of some supporters of “animal rights”. Also, I noticed an article about abortion. It asked the rhetorical question “It’s okay to dispose of unwanted kittens, why not dispose of unwanted children?”
You’re right that it’s a rhetorical question, often used in creationist talks. The context in which I have heard or seen it is always in condemning society’s attitude to abortion. So the speaker is saying, if I may expand it, “Society thinks like this, because of evolutionary indoctrination: ‘In our society, it’s Ok to kill unwanted kittens, so it must be OK to kill unwanted children, if they’re just animals anyway.’”
The speaker is not in so saying condoning the disposal of spare cats, but I agree that we never take that opportunity to speak against it either, and that’s probably because we don’t see it as an issue of cruelty. One of my friends in the ministry has a veterinarian wife who is an avid animal lover, even giving of her spare time to help animal shelters, etc. I think she would much rather that unwanted animals were put down humanely than that they were permitted to starve, suffer neglect, etc.
Of course, the answer provided is that it is wrong to “dispose” of “unwanted” children, because they are human beings made in God’s image. This is true. But it is also true that it is wrong to get rid of “unwanted” kittens. Although not made in God’s image, they are living creatures that should not be “put down” because they are inconvenient to have around. There are people who will foster or adopt kittens (or puppies) when somebody can’t take care of them. There are many “no-kill” animal shelters. Be pro-life for both human babies AND kittens or puppies. Another thing of concern on this subject is the reply email you posted in the “feedback” section of the site to a person asking if human life and chicken life begin at conception and how that relates to eating eggs. The answer, of course, is yes, that is when life begins. However in response to eating the eggs, you said that people are allowed to eat chickens. It is true that God allows people to eat chickens, but the answer was somewhat dismissive to the person who wrote to you.
I saw a similar dismissive attitude towards the late Steve Irwin and some feedback you were sent involving an article you posted after the unfortunate stingray incident. The guy wasn’t perfect, most notably a somewhat disregard for safety and slight evolutionary content in the Animal Planet TV shows. That said, Mr. Irwin was a great educator on wildlife and the need for conservation.
We try not to be dismissive, though I admit that in a busy ministry, sometimes we don’t word things as carefully as we ought. We regret it when that happens. But if I may gently say so, sometimes people perceive an ‘attitude’ when it’s not there. Particularly when it involves a topic that for them is sensitive or emotionally charged. I recall that we were even criticized from some among our own staff for suggesting that there was no evidence that the Crocodile Hunter was saved. The reasoning behind the rebuke was not any sort of rational assessment of the evidence, it was really a matter of how much that person’s kids loved Irwin’s TV persona, and how sad the whole family was when he died.
Taking feelings into consideration is important, but there is the other side of the coin, namely that feelings mislead, and that can have eternal consequences. Having read your letter to this point, I can imagine that just writing dispassionately about either animal rights issues or about someone who is a champion for animals, as Irwin was, would tend to be perceived as (at the least) cold, if not dismissive, even if it’s not meant that way.
His reputation of saying animals are “better than people” is closer to the Biblical belief that animals were not created capable of choosing sin.
I didn’t know of that reputation, or that saying, but it’s an interesting way of explaining it. I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that I would have tended to see it more as a value judgement, one that denigrates the image of God in humanity. Which I guess only shows how as believers we can see things in all sorts of different frameworks, without being able to say with certainty on such issues whether one is ‘right’ or not. That’s especially important for ‘tone’ issues, especially in writing.
There are certain sins that people do that can make people sometimes act “worse” than animals. I believe myself that animals are morally neither “better”, “worse”, or equal to people, just different. God made animals “good” or “very good” (the exact wording is not the same in all Bible translations), and there instincts were changed after the Fall and the Flood (when animals started to fear people).
I understand what you mean. Animals don’t seem to engage in the sort of deliberate cruelty to their own kind that one often sees in people. I saw a documentary a few nights ago, though, on a pack of orcas filmed while attacking a grey whale and her calf. It was a graphic horror show; they were after the tasty meat in the young whale’s tongue, and were literally trying to drown the calf while at the same time trying to cripple it by beating it to cause internal bleeding. Many who saw it said it was one of the most sickening things they have seen.
Another matter of great concern is the somewhat exclusive view toward science and Bible interpretations on this site. I have seen terms like “reputable Creationists” and “top Creationists”. There are two important points I would like to make on this. The first is that most Creationists don’t have science or theology degrees.
I have to clarify, if I may, how we mean this—and if you look back at the context, I think you will find that most times, it’s probably fairly obvious that we’re not talking about ‘creationists’ as just ‘people who believe in creation’ (I wouldn’t tend to use that term to describe people like that, I would use the term ‘Bible-believing Christian’). Rather, we’re referring to those who are actively engaged in promoting creation arguments and presenting themselves as knowledgeable. I.e. people in public creation ministry. For us, this is a constant dilemma—the last thing one wants to do is appear elitist, and we definitely have feet of clay like everyone else. But truth and accuracy are very important. We work at having internal review procedures to at least get close to solidly thought out positions on scientific issues—and when the evidence changes, to abandon them as needed. We don’t only utilize the scientists within CMI for this, but interact with those outside CMI whose writings and work have shown that they have the necessary expertise and cautious approach to the issues. And on some matters, we think that the right approach is to agree that there a variety of possible views. But no matter how ‘politically correct’ within some parts of Christendom, we don’t think it’s either rational or biblical to have a position which implicitly says that ‘all views are equal’, or ‘every opinion is equally important’.
They are ordinary people with ordinary jobs who believe what the Bible says. So it is not right to look down on them for mistakes that are made because they haven’t been to as much college as some others may have. Please look closely at your article on “Arguments Creationists Should NOT Use” and you will see what I mean.
Here I have to gently disagree. This is perhaps the most popular article on our website, and probably the one for which we have had the most commendations, and very few negatives. Our aim is generally understood, which is to try to ensure that Christians are well-equipped with the best arguments at any point in time. It’s amazing how common some of the worst arguments are, they seem to get ‘baptized by repetition’. So people think that they are ‘OK’. The result has been very damaging to many people’s faith as they get ‘shot down in flames’, sometimes by the person they have been trying to win to Christ—who might have listened if they had instead used a sound argument (i.e. a valid argument with true premises—see Logic and Creation). It’s so hard to say that without sounding ‘elitist’, but the bottom line is that all we’re doing is stating openly the principles on which most leading creation ministries operate, which is to take notice of the pool of wisdom and expertise in the community of committed creationist thinkers and researchers. We think it’s important that the Christian public are discerning, that they make their choices wisely on the basis of all the information. They don’t have to take our word for it, but at least we are alerting them to the fact that not all who are publicly engaged in defending Genesis (whether sincerely or not) are doing so wisely or with sound science. We wish it were not so.
The second point is that within Biblical Creationist belief, there are still some topics that can be interpreted in more than one way.
Absolutely. And we often agree to disagree in love on those things. Plus we have a whole range of issues on which we explicitly say that CMI’s position is to state that there are x number of legitimate ways to understand the matter (until further evidence is available, for example).
One example is the Genesis 3 “Serpent”. The Biblical view is that Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. Within this view there are varying theories on what happened. These include Satan used a real animal, Satan made himself look like an animal, “Serpent” is a metaphorical name for Satan, and the “Serpent” was a unique creature that was only seen that time and never will be seen again. On your website there appears to only be room for the “Satan used a real snake” view, which excludes the just as valid views of Christians who interpret it differently.
Please note first off that just because we have a preferred view does not mean that we strongly oppose all others. None of the positions you refer to are listed in our ‘arguments not to use’, for instance.
I an aware they can’t all be correct, but most of the other interpretations have just as much evidence as the one CMI supports.
I’m not sure that I would agree, though as I think you would already have gleaned, I’m not going to die on that hill, nor do I think that any of my colleagues would want to. Our basic approach is to understand the Bible ‘straightforwardly’. If one chooses to believe that it was not a real snake, then one has, I think, a real difficulty with God’s curse on the serpent, which would henceforth crawl on its belly. The only one from your list that would survive that test of evidence comfortably would be the ‘unique creature’ one, but then what one has done is to apply a hermeneutic of convenience—inventing a special beast when there is no such indication in the Bible. But I again suggest that it’s not a crucial issue, and I sincerely hope that we have never given the impression that it is.
Similarly the Genesis “kinds” have been interpreted by different Creationists as all animals that can interbreed, all animals that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, both the genus and species, and even total “fixity of species” (although I admit that last one has the problem of hybridization and observed change).
I don’t have a problem in admitting that in the process of writing lots of articles, responses, etc. for a dynamic website there will often be word usages that on careful examination are careless or poorly thought out. I think that you come across as fair-minded, and thus I reckon you would agree that reading the whole gamut of what we say on kinds and so on, we have tried to spell this whole matter out fairly carefully. I don’t think you would be able to say that we are claiming that it’s an ‘open and shut’ situation. Take for instance, this article of mine some years ago, grappling with this whole question of the definition and the biological limits of the created kind: Variation, information and the created kind
Note that it starts with biblical presuppositions, and here, too, we would want to take the Bible in the most straightforward way. This means also paying attention to what it doesn’t say. In fact, your writing makes a good case for the fact that all views are not equally valid. If people insist a kind is the same as our manmade definition of “species”, then they have gone beyond the boundaries of what the Bible states, and in the process, once a species is shown as being capable of splitting into two or three others, they have inadvertently caused the Bible to be falsified.
Some believe in a combination of these things.
I don’t see how one can combine ‘fixity of species’ with the other definitions, but you may mean a combination of some of the others.
A good way to deal with this might be to say “many Creationists think … .” instead of “Creationists think … .” That way people aren’t being generalized.
Hasty generalizations are probably the most common type of inadvertent carelessness in writing and I appreciate you pointing this out. We would probably not say ‘many creationists think’ because that would not mean much (how long is a piece of string?) but perhaps ‘most creationists think’. Again we have the problem of defining the word ‘creationist’, and where we sometimes add a word like ‘informed’ to clarify, we get ourselves in hot water. I would only ask you to bear in mind the type of audience for the specific publication. For example, the Journal of Creation, in which the above article of mine appeared is a technical/semi-technical one where one can make certain assumptions about the readership.
On the subject of the “kinds” I am making the additional comment that when a species is endangered (such as the recent mass extinctions of frogs), there isn’t necessarily time to “make sure it is a real species” before protecting it. Extinctions are a sign that something is very wrong either in the natural environment or from poor stewardship by humans. It is my own personal belief that even subspecies should be conserved, but even if you disagree with this, a problem for animals may also be a potential threat to human health, such as the chemicals that are currently adversely affecting wild frog populations. I say this because I saw a mention somewhere on your site about making sure the frogs are “real species”.
I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve written about some of the issues involved in pollution/extinction/etc. well before global warming become fashionable: see Fouling the nest and I think you’ll find that it treats such views with respect and that you and I might have a lot of agreement, in fact. Purely for interest, as it happens—it seems likely that the decline of frogs is largely due to a fungus disease. See http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/10/23/2720384.htm
The last comment is that I have noticed that some responses to emails in the feedback section are noticeably sarcastic. I understand that it is often provoked by angry “flame” emails. I hope you don’t consider this email to be one of them. I also realize that almost everybody, including myself, has used sarcasm when annoyed.
I realize there are times when sarcasm is appropriate or humorous, but not in the context of email responses of that sort. It is not the best thing for a Christian group to be doing.
It’s hard to answer this without specific examples. I’m sure that being fallible and human there are times we have crossed the line, but we certainly try not to let anger be an issue in the response. Sometimes, too, the use of sarcasm in the sense of dry wit is deliberate. Also, people’s tastes and assessments here vary tremendously. Some see it as an absolute ‘no-no’ under any circumstances. I’m certainly not trying to offer a blank cheque for any real ungraciousness, but I note that we get the same complaint far less often from Australians, so I wonder if it’s partly cultural, again. Also, one of my friends in the ministry points out that Jesus and the apostles used sarcasm and caustic comments in ways that would be a no-no to some of what he calls the (yes, with gently sarcastic wit) ‘wimps for Jesus’ wing of Christianity. Our criteria need to be the biblical examples we are given, and to examine our hearts to see why we are doing or defending whatever it is. Sometimes the really important thing is the heart motive.
Having said that, though, if you can give me some practical examples, it would help me to understand how we are being perceived by at least some. We don’t want any unnecessary stumbling blocks to this important message.
I thank you in advance for your patience in reading this long email, especially since it is not the kind that is fun to read. I am not an enemy of CMI and I have a lot of respect for the people and their work. I would just like to see a different attitude on some subjects and in some situations. I am hoping that you please consider this whole email carefully and remember that it is not meant to be offensive.
Absolutely. It was never taken in that way. And thank you for your kind words about the ministry, regardless.
Sarah, while you will likely not be totally satisfied with everything I’ve said, I did appreciate the opportunity to answer you, partly because I found it very refreshing, particularly for someone of highschool age. I don’t mean that in any patronizing sense at all; your erudite, thoughtful letter indicates to me that you have huge potential and you also obviously have a big heart, for animals as well as people. May I encourage you to let nothing deter you from going as far as you want to in whatever field you choose—which I somehow think will have something to do with biology (probably, from your email handle, herpetology!)—and from remaining faithful to those ‘big picture’ things on which we so obviously agree, which God has made plain in His Word.
Sincerely and God Bless,
May God bless you, too.
P.S. You will I think be interested to know that I live less than two hour’s drive from the Irwins’ Australia Zoo.
Sarah then responded with her second letter—Carl’s responses are interspersed:
Hi, Sarah, thanks again, it’s always a pleasure to read your erudite and thoughtful emails. Please see a few responses below.
Dear Dr. Wieland,
ThankThank you for responding to my email. In your response, you asked for examples of the possibly inappropriate sarcasm in email feedback that I mentioned in the previous letter. (The really long one. You remember it.) I will provide an example of the sarcasm and will also provide a little further explanation of some points I made in the previous letter. Please do not print this email in any CMI articles, although you are welcome to use individual points I mention in this email in articles if you wish [permission subsequently granted—Ed.]. If you want to reply to anything I say here it is appreciated, but as I am aware that you are probably very busy (I am sure you get a lot of emails), you don’t need to respond to this one. If you are less busy, I am curious to see what you think of what I say here. I hope you don’t mind that this email is fairly long too. The part of this email that is relevant to your question is in the second paragraph, if you want to find it quickly.
Thanks for your kind and thoughtful understanding of our time pressures.
Regarding the sarcasm thing, it is not a major issue, but rather one that may need consideration. Generally the emails that CMI gives a sarcastic response to are aggressive emails by Atheists or Evolutionists. By ‘aggressive’ I mean insulting or abusive emails. In American slang these are often referred to as ‘flame’ emails. In other words, when CMI gives a sarcastic sounding response, the email that they are responding to is generally a pretty obnoxious email. The feedback titled “Creationists use ‘Lowbrow’ Tactics” is the example I am giving you, but there are others of a similar sort. (I haven’t really kept track of which feedback responses sound sarcastic and which do not. I had to actually locate a relevant example for you.) I am aware that the email I used in this example was not a friendly feedback to CMI, but not particularly an aggressive one, but usually the emails that get a sarcastic response back are the really aggressive ones. Sarcastic email responses were really only a minor point in my previous email, however. And you are right, sarcasm has been used in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul, maybe others. I do not know whether it is to be taken as an example by Christians or whether it reflects that Paul was a fallible human being like anyone else. This is complicated by the fact that Jesus himself used some language that would not normally be considered "nice", but must not have been wrong because He lived a sinless life.
You are correct. So maybe our judgement on always needing to give "nice" answers could be colored somewhat by ‘cultural overlay’. When one experiences interactions with believers in many different cultural settings, one realizes how things we take as ‘normal Christian’ are quite variable. There is of course nothing wrong with being nice and with behaving in ways appropriate to one’s own particular national/Christian culture, but when applying judgement to others, we need to be careful to apply biblical standards and criteria, and distinguish those from what we ‘feel’. At the same time, addressing myself now, there is a ‘love principle’, and caution lest we be a stumbling block. Sometimes, of course, ‘tough love’ is more appropriate to a situation rather than ‘ooey gooey’ love. Keeping all those (superficially) competing principles in mind can be a difficult balancing act in an international ministry, i.e. keeping things at an appropriately robust level to maintain some of our cutting ‘edge’, if you like, while not ruffling the feathers of others too much. It’s probably not possible to satisfy all those requirements all the time.
I can’t say I know how to talk to Atheists myself.
First and foremost, atheists are human beings—I used to be an atheist myself. So there is no ‘fixed rule’, as human beings vary such a lot. But I think most of the angry aggressive ones are quite used to the “Wimps for Jesus” approaches that have bounced off them like water off a duck’s back. Sometimes getting a bit of dry causticity back can shock them into taking things more seriously—not of course, flaming them in return, that’s not what I mean. Check out how Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal; it makes us look a bit tame.
(You said) “Perhaps I need to explain a bit—the magazine was only about three years old at the time, and was for an Australian audience. In Australia, it is much easier for people to understand when an insult is used in a friendly way, a practice which is extremely common among friends—it is a mild form of what is known as “Aussie larrikinism”. I don’t seek to justify it, but it is deeply rooted in the culture and has to do with egalitarianism, sort of trying to level everybody who thinks too highly of themselves. It’s sometimes known as ‘having a go’ and is not seen as derogatory to the person (or their pet) in a negative sense, it sort of treats them as important in a funny way. (O, it’s so hard to explain without it sounding like an ‘excuse’). But believe me that it is done with friendly intent. Fortunately, over the years, we’ve become just a bit more understanding of how this can be perceived from outside, and we probably would have modified the article just a bit if we had published it today.”
You are probably right that the Australian sense of humor is different. I have never been to Australia and do not know anybody from there, so I would not always know what Australians consider to be a funny joke. I will add that, generally speaking, Americans have a sense of humor, and there are times when sarcastic humor or humor poking light fun at something are considered friendly. There does perhaps seem to be a cultural difference in taste about which “friendly insults” are still friendly. What I would personally recommend is using “lighter” jokes in articles and perhaps forgoing the jokes entirely when answering critics. Don’t get me wrong. I like jokes, probably more than most people.
(You said) “Having read your letter to this point, I can imagine that just writing dispassionately about either animal rights issues or about someone who is a champion for animals, as Irwin was, would tend to be perceived as (at the least) cold, if not dismissive. Even if it’s not meant that way.”
I am glad that it is not meant to be cold or dismissive. I understand writing is hard work. However, I have seen all too many Christian resources that overlooked harm to animals or the environment. Perhaps it is because of eco-terrorists and Peter Singer type people. Then there are the Christian resources that give animals more notice, but overlook the Bible or human rights. I like to see a balanced view that overlooks neither. I thought the article you sent me was good.
You mentioned the killer whales. I read something similar about dolphins and I have also seen disturbing documentaries that showed the animosity between wolves and the coyotes that live in Yellowstone Park with them. I admit I am more used to the reptiles, which normally only harm humans or animals out of hunger or fear, territorial disputes being the main exception. I don’t know why some animals have fallen-world behavior that is not directly related to survival.
I agree with you that direct moral culpability is not attributable to animals (I will qualify that later), but that is not the same as saying that animals cannot behave in horrific ways. The Bible uses the term, of the pre-Flood world, that “all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth”. That seems to be broader than humanity. But it does not go into detail. Large numbers of animals were certainly wiped out in the Flood.
(You said) “I have to clarify, if I may, how we mean this—and if you look back at the context, I think you will find that most times, it’s probably fairly obvious that we’re not talking about ‘creationists’ as just ‘people who believe in creation’ (I wouldn’t tend to use that term to describe people like that, I would use the word ‘Bible-believing Christian’). Rather, we’re referring to those who are actively engaged in promoting creation arguments and presenting themselves as knowledgeable.”
I missed that point. I thought you were talking about anybody who may have to defend the Bible. I totally understand that an inaccurate defense of the Bible is counterproductive.
(I said, referring to Steve Irwin) “His reputation of saying animals are “better than people” is closer to the Biblical belief that animals were not created capable of choosing sin.”
(Then, you said) “I didn’t know of that reputation, or that saying, but it’s an interesting way of explaining it. I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that I would have tended to see it more as a value judgement, one that denigrates the image of God in humanity. Which I guess only shows how as believers we can see things in all sorts of different frameworks, without being able to say for certainty on such issues whether one is ‘right’ or not. That’s especially important for ‘tone’ issues, especially in writing.”
I will better explain what I said. I have seen more than one major Christian ministry (including CMI) say that Steve Irwin promoted that message. When I was a lot younger, I used to watch “Croc Files” (Irwin’s kid-oriented Animal Planet TV show) every chance I got. I have seen him on other TV shows and also in the movie “Crocodile Hunter Collision Course”. I have never heard him say, point blank, that “animals are better than people”. I have heard him compare reptile (maybe arachnid too) aggression with human aggression. (For example, he compared crocodiles, which you can predictably know are going to be dangerous, with humans, who may be dangerous and you won’t even know it. I believe he may have also compared animals defending themselves in their territory with humans going into the animal’s territory and attacking the animal or blaming the animal for acting according to its instinct) Although these are “thorny” topics, I don’t necessarily think he meant animals are worth more than people. I wanted you to know that, to the best of my knowledge, “animals are better than people” is not an actual Steve Irwin quote. (Nothing I said here is an actual quote of anything Irwin said. I have not watched anything with Steve Irwin in it recently enough to quote much that he said exactly.) I hope that clarifies things.
It does. Thanks.
(I said) “One example is the Genesis 3 “Serpent”. The Biblical view is that Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit. Within this view there are varying theories on what happened. These include Satan used a real animal, Satan made himself look like an animal, “Serpent” is a metaphorical name for Satan, and the “Serpent” was a unique creature that was only seen that time and never will be seen again. On your website there appears to only be room for the “Satan used a real snake” view, which excludes the just as valid views of Christians who interpret it differently.”
(You said) “I’m not sure that I would agree, though as I think you would already have gleaned, I’m not going to die on that hill, nor do I think that any of my colleagues would want to. Our basic approach is to understand the Bible ‘straightforwardly’. If one chooses to believe that it was not a real snake, then one has, I think, a real difficulty with God’s curse on the serpent, that it would henceforth crawl on its belly. The only one from your list that would survive that test of evidence comfortably would be the ‘unique creature’ one, but then what one has done is to apply a hermeneutic of convenience—inventing a special beast when there is no such indication in the Bible. But I again suggest that it’s not one of those crucial issues, and I sincerely hope that we have never given the impression that it is.”
First, I will say that CMI seems to look at it as “somewhat important”, enough that they have a couple of articles about it and use it (the it’s a real snake view) as evidence in articles about snakes with supposed “vestigial legs” and at least one article involving carnivory. CMI does not give the impression that it is a “crucial issue” like it does with morality/ethics topics or “molecules to man” evolution.
To clarify—not important enough to spend a lot of time promoting it/defending it, or opposing the alternate views, sure, but it is definitely our position. So we ‘assume’ it in discussions about e.g. carnivory, vestigial legs, etc.
Not to contradict you, because what I am about to refer to probably does not apply to most people, but the subject of the Genesis 3 Serpent is a crucial issue to some reptile lovers. Some reptile lovers who are not Christians look at Christianity and the Bible as hostile to snakes and some blame Christians for the hatred people sometimes have toward these animals and for cruelty to snakes.
That’s interesting, but it is not a rational justification for either hating snakes or being cruel to them. It reminds me of the illogic of people who say that because of the account of Christ’s passion, Jews are to be persecuted. The Bible gives no instruction for hating or torturing or even killing snakes. Evidence indicates that fear of snakes is very deepseated, however, whatever the reason, and this is also so in cultures that have nothing to do with the Bible. So perhaps your strong feelings about the identify of the Genesis serpent have been coloured by the unnecessary belief that thinking it is a real serpent will somehow vindicate cruelty or loathing of snakes. Now, the Bible does say that there will be enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed. (Another reason that this is a real snake, btw, because allegories don’t have offspring.)1
So the Bible is describing (prophetically) a future reality. It is not the same as saying this is necessarily the way it should be, but this is the way it will be. Think on this: if God prophetically states that a particular person will be persecuted, that is not the same as giving people instructions to help the matter along by actively participating in that persecution. I.e. a prophecy is not a prescription. He may do so, of course, but in the absence of this, one would not be justified in using the prophecy to justify such behaviour. The enmity that people feel towards snakes, whatever its cause, is definitely in most cases unrelated to hearing stories about a snake interpretation of Genesis; especially when vast numbers don’t believe Genesis, anyway. It is real, though, and the Bible prophesies it. That does not prevent you speaking out against it. The Bible’s statement about what people will do does not equate to ‘what people should do’.
There are also people who will try to justify cruelty to snakes using this part of the Bible. Both of these factors make the Serpent-related parts of Genesis 3 a more important subject than they would normally be.
There are always going to be people who will deal with Bible passages in illogical ways. I recall reading of the former existence of a strict Christian sect in Europe, the members of which were more or less required to go out of their way to be cruel to animals—and they obliged. The rationale was that they were underscoring the superiority of mankind and our dominion over the animals. We shouldn’t, though, let the fear of inadvertently promoting such aberrations dictate how the Word of God is to be understood in regard to that dominion mandate. And I suggest that it applies here, too. If some people get their kicks torturing snakes, then use the Eden serpent to justify that, it should not determine our exegesis of God’s Word. These are important principles at stake here, which is one reason why I’m happy to spend the time on it, because they apply to many more situations than just this one. I.e. external pressures and the behaviour of other people should not be allowed to affect the meaning of Scripture (I know you don’t mean it that blatantly, but it can happen inadvertently). These principles are true and important, even if you were to find a biblical reason that we were wrong about the Eden serpent.
Also some people will use the “you Creationists believe in talking snakes” line for ridiculing Christians. It came up in the Scopes Trial as well.
Sure, but this too is an example of the same sort of principle, that external factors and pressures and other people’s actions or words should never be the criterion for how we understand a biblical passage. If it were, then consider this: what if some people started to ridicule Christians by saying, e.g. “Aren’t you those fruitloops who believe that some dead guy came back to life (after walking on water, and telling people to drink his blood), then flew up into the sky without a plane?” I think you would agree that we would not want to let this push us into ‘reinterpreting’ the important Bible truths that were being mocked in that way.
I am not sure the best way to say this, because I don’t want to sound argumentative, especially because you don’t see it as a crucial issue. I see it as only humans and angels were given the choice between sin and righteousness. An animal (like a snake), therefore, can’t choose sin. Willingly helping the devil is a sin. If the snake was not willing, then that would mean that “possession” of a living creature existed before the Fall. There was no harm to people or animals before the Fall.
Evil entered the universe at the Fall of Satan. Sometime between the end of Creation Week, when everything was ‘very good’, and the temptation of Eve. So the possibility of an action with evil intent is there prior to Adam’s Fall.
Being used as a tool by the Devil sounds like harm to me.
What sort of harm? Evil intent, yes, but not towards the serpent. As Hollywood would put it, “no animal was harmed during the making of this movie” (i.e. during the process of the possession itself)—excuse the bad joke. No pain or suffering, no death or bloodshed was involved. The outcome of the process would eventually do untold harm, principally to many others, including the serpent, but that is not the same thing. And that was post-Fall.
It would seem to me that a just God would not punish an innocent snake. God is just.
Yes, He is. But we have to distinguish between what we think/feel and what the biblical reality is. God also decreed in the Levitical Law certain instances where an animal’s action was to result in the death of the animal. I agree that it can’t be because the animal was capable of making a moral choice in the way humans do, but nevertheless it is to be ‘punished’. I suggest that this is not to hurt the animal (after all, its torture was not being prescribed) but to highlight the seriousness of the offence in question (which inevitably involved a human being and had to do with the defilement of the image of God in one form or another). Such a death sentence can’t possibly elicit remorse from the animal, or act as a deterrent to other animals, hence it is probably not about the animal at all, but because of the important lesson to mankind.
And that I think is the reason why God cursed the snake, resulting in permanent physical changes. It has no ‘punishment value’ for snakes, who would not realize what it was all about, nor realize how they had been punished, nor see any particular disadvantage to going on their belly. Even the ‘redesigned’ snake is well designed for its way of life, I’m sure you would agree. So it was for mankind, as an object lesson, a permanent reminder, I suggest.
Further: I don’t think that snakes suffer in an ongoing way any more than other animals, who are also ‘cursed’ (as are people, indeed the whole creation, according to that same Genesis passage). The curse on the snake was stated to be ‘above’ the curse on the other animals, and indeed it had a more spectacular, visible component. I suggest that this was for the sort of reason mentioned above, namely as an indication of the seriousness of what took place (here too involving mankind), an ongoing, abject lesson for mankind, rather than the culpability of the animal or its descendants.
In short, God is just, indeed. But if we substitute our human sense of what we think is ‘fair’ or not, we start to go awry. We might think it’s unfair of Adam’s descendants to be cursed because of his sin, for instance—and that would cause us to miss the deeper and bigger picture.
For that reason I am inclined to think that it is possible no real snake was involved, but Satan was, with the “snaky” wording of the Curse being a metaphor. I don’t really know. Also, I have heard that the Hebrew word for the Genesis 3 Serpent was different than that used for Bible passages known to be referring to snakes.
Respectfully, it’s not wise to rely on what one has heard, but rather to check, as that seems unsupportable. In a cursory scan of the OT word serpent/snake, נחש nachash (the Hebrew word used of the Eden serpent in Genesis 3) is used in most cases, and in later parts of the OT (e.g. Micah 7:17) it is clear that nachash is referring to ordinary snakes, i.e. real animals. The word תנין tannîn (which can also mean dragon and a few other things) is used to describe the snake(s) into which Aaron’s staff (and the rods of Pharaoh’s magicians) was turned (Exodus 7:11). But in a later part of the same passage (Exodus 7:15), referring to the same creatures, it once again uses the word nachash i.e. interchangeably with tannîn. (As a minor aside, it is believed that the word nachash as pronounced in Hebrew derives from the hissing sound of a snake.)
In the NT, the most common Greek word for ‘snake’ is ὄφις ophis, mostly referring to real snakes. And where the OT refers back to the Genesis serpent, it uses ophis. This is the word used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3 where he talks of how Eve was “deceived by the serpent’s cunning”.
I’m sure you would agree that it’s important that we don’t let our passions, predilections and personal preferences (no matter how apparently worthy) override the clear use of the text. In this case, be encouraged that you can freely retain your passion for reptiles, including snakes, without the need to justify this by hoping that the Bible might mean something else other than what is obvious.
I have seen various Bible handbooks talking about this in a way that showed obvious loathing, revulsion, or lack of understanding towards snakes (yes, the words “revolting” and “loathsome” were used) , including saying that there is a “titanic struggle between man and snakes”. Since you believe in a literal snake and a literal curse on snakes, I ask if you believe there is a way that God still loves His reptilian creations and does not wish harm on them in those circumstances. I hope that question does not bother you, especially since it is barely related to my original point. I have pet snakes and I intend to work towards conservation for reptiles. I would hope that is not against God’s will.
I can’t see how caring for any part of God’s creation could be ‘against God’s will’. Even if it were taken to some bizarre extreme that might make it foolish, [that would still not mean it was] ‘opposing God’.
We need to think carefully about that whole ‘God’s will’ thing, in any case. As I see it, God has revealed His moral will in the Bible, and if you are not opposed to that, you are not opposed to God’s will. God requires us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. Also, Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” As I see it, there is no way that your caring for snakes and/or their conservation is opposing God. Caring for snakes (or toads) is not my ‘thing’, but that’s irrelevant.
In addition, there is another issue. In the Bible, wherever there is an action against the Curse (i.e. seeking to locally/temporarily work against it) it seems to be regarded as ‘blessed’. The Curse pitted man against man–but “blessed are the peacemakers”. The Curse brought suffering and disease, but binding up wounds, and following Christ’s healing example, is also obviously regarded as “blessed”. This indicates that even though the Curse is a part of His sovereign will, one is never opposing God by opposing the harmful effects of the Curse. Extinctions are a part of the Curse, so seeking to prevent them can’t be opposing God. Now, I don’t share your passion for reptiles/snakes (nor do I loathe them, I just don’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings towards them). But I suggest to you that neither your caring for them, nor my non-caring, nor someone else’s ‘fear and loathing’ of them, are ‘against God’s will’–they are all morally neutral positions.
As a general point to ponder about God’s sovereignty in a fallen world, note that even though the Curse brought bloodshed, death and carnivory (which will not be a part of the restored creation), God nevertheless indicates in Job 38:39-41 that it is ultimately He who provides food for the young lions, and for ravens (both of which are carnivores).
I don’t really think it is, but I do wonder how Genesis 3:14–15 relate to that, especially with the real snake interpretation. I realize that this paragraph deviates from the original subject of representing more than one Bible interpretation and also reveals that I do have some personal bias on this topic.
I don’t actually have a set view on what happened with the Serpent and the Curse yet, although I do read the story as historical rather than allegory.
(You said) “I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve written about some of the issues involved in pollution/extinction/etc. well before global warming become fashionable: see Fouling the nest and I think you’ll find that it treats such views with respect and that you and I might have a lot of agreement, in fact.”
That is one of the best articles on Christianity and the environment I have ever read. I do agree with it mostly. It looks at the Bible AND the environment. I like that.
I do have a question about the article, though. The article says, “Non-Christians (and Christians who fail to acknowledge the Genesis reality that this is not the good world God originally made, but its cursed and groaning remnant) have no consistent basis for favouring one type of creature over another. I suggest that the appropriate Christian attitude is, ‘Wipe it out!’. The Earth is ultimately for people, and the virus represents some of the worst aspects of the Curse.”.
This was referring to the smallpox virus, if you recall.
I would ordinarily think that man does not have the right to drive anything to extinction that God chose to put here, even though he is given dominion. However, I would make an exception in the case of disease-causing microorganisms and probably parasitic “bugs”.
I would stand by my comments on the smallpox virus, for a number of reasons. For one thing, a virus is not really living. It has no cellular machinery with which to reproduce itself, it is like a packet of code that parasitizes living things by hijacking their machinery to make copies of itself, in the process generally harming its host. My comments that you quote referred to this virus that cannot live and reproduce outside of human cells, and its only current function (its ancestors may well have been harmless to humans, as is the related cowpox virus) is to cause this horrible, mostly lethal and highly infectious disease in humans. Prior to vaccination, it killed untold millions.
But where do you draw the line, once you have decided some species shouldn’t exist?
I don’t think it’s a particularly difficult line to draw. What we are talking about here is what is left of the virus after world health authorities have tried to wipe it out, ie. to eradicate smallpox, which has succeeded insofar as no new outbreaks have happened for many years. But some has remained in frozen form in a lab(s) somewhere. I would say, if asked, that we should finish the job so that it can never run rampant to hurt people again. It’s already been removed from the ecosystem, so there are obviously no possibilities of harm to the ecosystem. If we lived in Africa, we might fear or loathe lions, for instance, but wisdom and modern insights show that these top predators have an important role to play in ecosystems.
All animals, even herbivores (horses may bite or step on people, for example), reflect some aspect of the Fall, as well as retain much of the goodness of the original Creation. Some animals have or have had in the past a very low popularity with people. Some examples are large carnivores, farm “pests”, and snakes. People have tried to wipe out some of these creatures, and sometimes they have succeeded. (An example of this is the Tasmanian Wolf, which is almost definitely extinct.) Are you referring to only wiping out diseases (obviously sensible), or animals too?
Diseases, specifically this lethal disease called smallpox, as the article I believe makes plain. To cite that section above in isolation risks seriously misleading, which I’m sure is not your intention. Note also as a minor aside that where extinction is the result of overhunting, it may not have been the intention of the hunters, e.g. Tasmanian farmers were motivated to kill the Tasmanian wolves that were killing their sheep, but may not have given much thought to the possibility of the whole species going extinct.
(You said) “Purely for interest, as it happens—it seems likely that the decline of frogs is largely due to a fungus disease. See http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/10/23/2720384.htm”
I knew about the chytrid fungus, although now I know more about it from that article. I know that frogs face a variety of pressures, not just pollution. These include the chytrid fungus, pollution, overhunting, habitat loss, competition with and predation by introduced non-native species such as the notorious Cane Toad (Bufo marinus), and possibly global warming. (I know that there is “hot” controversy over whether global warming is fact, fiction, or some of both, and whether or not it is caused by man or natural processes. Pollution is thought to increase a frog’s susceptibility to disease. I do not know whether this applies to the chytrid fungus. Thanks for the article.
(You said) “May I encourage you to let nothing deter you from going as far as you want to in whatever field you choose—which I somehow think will have something to do with biology (probably, from your email handle, herpetology!)—and from remaining faithful to those ‘big picture’ things on which we so obviously agree, which God has made plain in His Word.”
Thank you. That is very encouraging. I do intend to do something involving herpetology. I intend to work towards conservation of (especially rattlesnakes) and education about reptiles. I want to somehow make whatever I do involving reptiles be something furthering God’s kingdom. I would love to do Creation-themed reptile presentations with my pet reptiles. I would want to learn more about Creation, though, (there are some parts I don’t understand as well as I would like to) and I am not sure how to handle the topic of the controversial Genesis 3 Serpent …
I hope that maybe this has been of help to you. I suggest that you don’t have to avoid the issue of the Genesis serpent. Just because it was originally cursed more than other animals, doesn’t mean that we have to help the Curse along, as it were. And snakes have many amazing design features, even though some of them were obviously designed with a post-Fall function in mind. For example, the venom apparatus (including the complex biochemical specificity of the venom itself).
I have done neutral (not mentioning origins at all) presentations before, since I volunteer at a pet store that does animal presentations.
(You said) “PS You will I think be interested to know that I live less than two hour’s drive from the Irwins’ Australia Zoo.”
That is cool. Have you ever been there?
Yes, I have.
I think Australia has amazing wildlife. My favorite is the Bearded Dragon, which is a lizard that seems to display both God’s artistry and sense of humor. (They are so funny to watch.)
I’ve never watched one in action, but Australia’s many visitors from Japan seem to particularly love the frillnecked lizard, which I have seen performing in a humorous way on video.
Thank you again for your thoughtful and honest response to my original email.
Dr Carl Wieland
Creation Ministries International Ltd (Australia)
This unusual (and unusually long and detailed) weekend feedback triggered a wide range of viewer responses, as seen below.
Rod R from Canada:
Yes she is a deep thinker, but I give Carl W. a score of 10/10 for patience and willingness to respond to all the many points she raised, both the big and the (sometimes quite) trivial.
Christopher N from the USA:
Yeah, a lot of whining about nothing. I cannot believe I read that. I wish that I could have that time back. Will you send me a time machine, please? Hurting animals feelings, and not being sarcastic. blah blah blah. They were pretty sharp and sarcastic in the Bible. Not sensitive little priss butts.
That was all mammy pammy nonsense. I am American and I don’t get offended by silly foreigners. I like to argue. It is fun to prove I am usually right on most issues. Like the Bible issue for instance.
I am gonna go cry now, for not being able to get that time of my life wasted, back. Thank you wonderful Australians, especially … [Dr Jonathan] Sarfati.
Sue B from South Africa:
Thank you for this web article. With intelligent, erudite young people like Sarah and the considered response from Carl there is hope for the future proclaiming of the absolute truth of God’s Word.
Brian B from the US:
Wow that kid has [her] faith down well what an inspiration.
Ray W from Australia:
What a long article, whew, I never thought I would read it all the way through when I saw the length of it. If the writer is only in High School the letter shows the quality of her education so far, in my view very well written. I’m sure we will be reading books from this young lady in the future.
I have read the articles that Sarah was writing about on sarcasm and I also felt a twinge but understood where the writer was coming from. Some evolutionists can be downright obnoxious when trying to answer a question they have asked an answer for, but then don’t give you the opportunity to answer the question. I find this symptomatic of schoolteachers or ex schoolteachers.
Robert P from Australia:
Hi Carl, I can tell you have a daughter by the way you gently & patiently responded to Sarah. Sarah comes across as a very sensitive & sincere young lady….this was a charming & touching article, well done.
(Initials withheld on request – Australia)
I enjoyed reading this, as I always do with CMI’s (my preferred creationist organisation) articles and email responses. I touched on this very topic of the Genesis serpent just before Easter in an online forum conversation with some atheists.
My view was that the serpent was probably some sort of extinct creature other than a snake, perhaps some sort of lithe dinosaur that could speak, like some birds observable today, but I can see that there are good reasons for believing that snakes are the (transformed) descendants of the original serpents, one of which was used by Satan in Eden, presumably in some sort of act of possession.
I kept snakes and tortoises as a child and am still fond of reptiles. As a reptile admirer I can well understand the emailer’s point of view. I found Carl’s response to be excellent.
I have always noted with a lot of curiosity that snakes commonly wear an unmistakably angry, rather bitter look on their ‘face’, especially ones such as the Taipan, something that other predatory animals such as the eagle and lion do not possess despite their steely and intense glare at times, and even ‘frown’ in the case of the eagle and other birds. It could be a purely subjective impression on my imagination…but I’m not so sure. It is hard to explain but having kept several snakes, and also having caught quite a few wild ones, I know from experience that snakes are indeed capable of expressing emotive ‘looks’, such as anger and surprise, in the very look of their eyes. Strange but true.
Perhaps the sculptured angry look on the snake’s ‘dial’ is a further reminder of the curse, put there for our benefit (a reminder) and no doubt due to be some day done away with.
Of course, very speculative on my part and not a good argument for creationists to use.
Sid G from the US:
Carl, just wanted to say your response to the young girl, Sarah A., is one of the best examples of speaking the truth in love that I’ve seen / heard in a long time. Her lengthy emails were well thought out and obviously coming from a sincere and respectful heart. A joy to read as a teacher of high school students. I appreciate how you responded so personally and sensitively to each of her points of concern.
By the way … I empathized with Sarah’s desire for a more comprehensive creationist presentation of God’s principles that should govern our compassionate care over His nephesh creatures. I am often grieved by the unbiblical "machoism" exhibited by many conservative Christian men and boys that falls far short of the biblical image of the real man, Jesus. There is so much more that could be said to build a bridge with those whose hearts are burdened for all nephesh creatures who suffer in this broken world. There are so many more verses in the Bible that speak directly and indirectly to the subject, plus scores of writings from great biblical scholars in history (example: John Wesley-"The General Deliverance"), as well as wonderful works throughout the history of Judaism that are based upon the biblical principles from Genesis 1–9 forward to Lev 17:10 and on to The Revelation. The Mishnah, Talmud, and other rabbinical writings (especially those regarding the purpose and method of kosher preparation), often reflect the Good Shepherd’s compassionate care for His nephesh animals that were never intended to experience suffering and death. It is sad that Satan has stolen these biblical truths and used them as distorted truths to draw people into deceptions through media like the movie Avatar (great review by the way). It should be the followers of the Good Shepherd who show reverent compassion for the suffering of animals we must kill to eat, far more than the creation-worshiping Navi, American Indians, or Australian Aborigines.
Anyway, my friend, thanks for such a clear example of a Christ-like response of humility, gentleness, and respect (2 Tim 2:23–24)—the truth in love.
James L. from United States:
While reading Sarah’s email I wondered if she really was a high school student, or if she was a college professor.
In any event, she makes everyone in her life smarter.
Judie S. from Australia:
Wow, what an essay of an article! After reading it, I went back to the degenerate mutant article and laughed all the way through it (Yes, I am Australian!). … I suspect Sarah may be a little sensitive (after all, the words ‘degeneration’ and ‘mutation’ are not being used as insults, but are exactly what we should expect in a fallen world), but her concern is totally admirable and, given the fact of her own situation, understandable.
Incidentally, your article is by no means the only one to call pure-bred dogs mutants. I searched for ‘degenerate mutant’ and found several articles, including ‘A Parade of Mutants’, which mentions a BBC documentary (by no means a pro-creation organisation). [Ed. note: the cover article in the next Creation magazine (32(3), July 2010) is largely sourced from this documentary, and the lessons creationists can learn about mutation, selection and inbreeding.]
Keep up the good work, keep up the gracious and gentle responses.
Michael S. from Australia
I am extremely impressed by the depth of both understanding and feeling exhibited in this lengthy discourse (which I confess to “skimming”). However, I am also deeply concerned by the extreme naivete displayed by this otherwise well informed individual.I wonder does she realise that the demise of the fox fur industry in Australia has led to the agonisingly painful poisoning death of millions of foxes every year, and deprived rural Australia and its young men and women of a source of income whilst at the same time providing a cost effective benefit to the Australian environment. Believe me, a single bullet to the head is a much more satisfactory death (an inevitability for every living creature) than hours of anguish and suffering whilst poison slowly takes away life.
Death is a reality that too many of our young people are removed from, and they openly scorn those who are forced to deal with it every day, like farmers, fishermen, emergency service personnel etc. This scorn reflects an ignorance that is sympomatic of a society removed from its agricultural roots. However, I agree completely that there is no room for cruelty, and the Lord God has given us the responsibility of ensuring that animals are not mistreated.
Thank you and God bless you both.
L L from Australia
Sarah is intelligent and a writer of many more articles worthy of attention. As a Christian, she obviously has some good teaching-via Church or other means. I pray her continued growth as a Christ-centred person will be well supported as she goes from School to Tertiary level education & into the workplace. Thanks… very positive.
Sandra H. from United Kingdom
I wonder what this young lady would have thought had she seen Jesus kill and prepare a fish for his disciples to eat?
- There is a dual meaning here to the seed of the woman, in that it refers to not just her descendants in general, but a few words further on, to Christ. Likewise, the seed of the serpent may refer to more than future snakes in general; the next part goes to a direct reference to Christ’s victory over Satan, not Satan’s offspring. This exchange assumes that the Bible in this one narrow section refers to not just the future enmity between Christ and Satan, but between humans and snakes. Return to text.
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