The perfect planet
For those with eyes to see, a new Attenborough series conveys much biblical truth
Yet another stunning BBC documentary series about the natural world, narrated as always by Sir David Attenborough, has been released. It is titled A Perfect Planet. To quote the man himself in his introduction:
There is only one planet in the universe, as far as we know, where there is life: the earth, our home, the perfect planet. Life here is only possible because of a unique balance of natural forces.
World of wonder
Each new episode reveals more about the wonderful place where we live, its beauty and its fragility. It is indeed in many ways a ‘perfect’ world—the perfect combination of location, materials, energy, and more, to sustain the incredibly complex web of life. How many of us have looked out across a scene of breathtaking beauty as the sun sets, with green fields, contented animals, and a calm sea, with the ones we love beside us, and been overwhelmed with the wonder of it all?
And yet at the same time we are confronted with very different images of our world. Every day the news is predominantly bad news. War, murder, famine, devastating fires, environmental catastrophe, to say nothing of the seemingly ‘minor’ matters of cheating, lying, incompetence, and sorrow. How can we say this is a perfect world? It is a world of decay, death, and destruction. It is a world of hatred. If we feed each day upon the news, it can drive us to despair: imperfection is everywhere. If we look back in history, we see the same story, of wars, suffering, and death, the continual advancement in the ability to kill. And the future promises an even greater level of slaughter.
How can these two views of our world, our planet, be reconciled? Which is right? Can the two be held at the same time? Sir David is in fact closer to doing so than we might think, and closer to what we read in the Bible than he would want to admit. He would not wish anything he says to give encouragement to creationists—yet all he reveals reinforces the words we read in the Scriptures. At the same time as saying that we have a unique combination of circumstances here on Earth, he is greatly concerned about the effect of man upon the planet. He recognizes that the world we have is being destroyed, mostly not by those ‘natural forces’, nor by the violence and cruelty in the non-human world, but by the rapacity of mankind. Humanity has set in motion a series of events that seemingly cannot be stopped, and that threaten to lead to its own destruction, and that of the beautiful world that we have been given.
Making sense of it
This accords with what we read in the Word of God. God did indeed make a perfect planet: when He had finished creating He pronounced it “very good” (Gen 1:31). Just as Sir David says, it was a place with a unique blend of natural forces—and of course in mankind, a unique creation, made in God’s image.
However, the very first couple sinned and fell, and brought death and suffering to the world, as we read in Genesis Chapter 3. The bondage to sin and decay that grips the world, and which necessitated the coming of the Saviour, was God’s judgment, brought about by man. But it is also true that that bondage extends to the natural world. This includes natural disasters not brought about by human activity.
This corruption also included the animal kingdom. Nature was not originally “red in tooth and claw”1; when creation was complete it was all “very good”, devoid of harm. The predation that we observe is another effect of the Curse that Adam brought upon the planet when he disobeyed his Creator.
When we watch this well-made and awe-inspiring series, and listen to the passionate and knowledgeable commentary by the venerable Sir David, we are brought face to face once again with the truths we have learned from our God. He made the world perfect, indeed, and the harmony and intricacy are amazing. The more we discover, the more astonishing is the magnificent design. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
But at the same time we see the effects of the Curse as we see the cruelty in much of the animal kingdom. And we see more of the terrible consequences of sin in people as we seek to shake our fists at our Creator, and destroy what He has made. These programs, even while they seek to deny the hand of the Creator, nevertheless have a large measure of Gospel truth.
References and notes
- Canto 56 of his elegy In Memoriam A.H.H, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1850) Return to text.