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Creation’s Story (22)

R W Cargill, St Monans

Design and Instinct

Detailed studies of many creatures have revealed just how beautifully they fit into their place in the natural world. It is not that they have evolved by "chance mutations" and by adapting to their environment, with one species eventually changing into another. They were designed and made to be what they are and where they are. In a given species, adaptation to surroundings does produce changes in some of their characteristics, for example brown bears in the forests and polar bears in the Arctic, but new species are not formed that way.

However, such detailed studies on living things have not explained everything about them, indeed some of the most fascinating aspects remain the least understood. To illustrate this let us consider the birds again, beautiful, interesting creatures, common everywhere in their great variety. Both what is understood and what is not understood about them point repeatedly to the wisdom and provision of almighty God.

Birds and Flying

Made by God on the fifth day of creation week (Gen 1.20), their obvious characteristics are their wings for flying and their reproduction of young by laying eggs. If female birds were to carry their young until birth, as many other mammals do, think how their ability to fly would be seriously impaired and their survival jeopardised. See how this and the other characteristic features we examine next demonstrate God’s integrated design for birds and no other type of creature.

The wing of a bird fulfils aerodynamic design requirements, both for flapping and for gliding – it did this long before that word was thought of! Each flight feather is also cleverly designed: the central hollow shaft and the side "barbs" with smaller "barbules" zipping together give the lightest, strongest structure for a wing. Could this marvellous structure evolve from the scales of a reptile? In addition, feathers provide insulation and camouflage in hazardous habitats.

The bones of birds are hollow and cross braced inside. Engineers tell us that this type of structure gives maximum strength with minimum weight – just what birds need! A special example is "shock absorber" bones in the skull of a woodpecker which prevent damage to its head while like "a flying power drill" it repeatedly slams its sharp beak into solid wood.

Birds’ lungs are basically different from those of other creatures. We breathe air in and out from the top of our lungs, but in birds the air flows in at the top and out at the bottom of their lungs while their blood flows through in the opposite direction. This gives a much better absorption of oxygen. So birds can fly fast and far, and many fly at high altitudes where reduced oxygen levels are a severe handicap for man and beast. This is amazing – but not surprising when we see it as God’s design!

Some birds fly very fast. The peregrine falcon is the fastest creature in the world, able to swoop on its prey at around 180 mph. Other birds fly very far. The arctic tern which you can see around the north Scottish coasts each summer holds the record. It flies over 10,000 miles north from the Antarctic every springtime and returns south again the same distance every autumn. During its lifetime this beautiful bird flies the same distance as a trip from the earth to the moon and back!


Spring and autumn migration is a fascinating thing. In their millions, arctic and other terns, flocks of swallows, swifts and martins, and thousands of other types of birds worldwide, make such journeys. Every April, the arrival of the osprey in Scotland from Africa is eagerly awaited, coming back to its old nest site to breed. And there are few experiences to rival the sight and sound of skeins of geese spread across a clear autumn sky, these stretched out V formations of perhaps a thousand birds at a time, calling loudly to announce their presence, arriving from the Arctic circle to spend the winter here.

How all these migrant birds navigate over such vast distances and find their way repeatedly to exactly the same spot year on year, is an unsolved puzzle! Particularly astonishing is how young birds find their way for the first time, when maybe weeks earlier their parents have gone away without them. Instinct is the name given to it, but no one knows what the mechanism is – only God, for He put it there.

The instinct of birds like these is set as a challenge to us in Psalm 84.3. How much of a "homing instinct" do we have for the presence of God, for His house, His altars? Whether travelling far like the swallow or staying local like the sparrow, do we always seek out our spiritual home and feel we belong there? Is that where we want to be again and again?

Migration is not confined to birds. Salmon born in an upland river bed make their way downstream to the open sea where they mature and grow. They may spend up to four years in the ocean far from the river of their birth. Then they return to that selfsame section of the very river where they were born, leaping up raging waterfalls, overcoming huge obstacles, to lay their eggs in those gravel beds for the next generation to repeat it all over again - a wonderful cycle of nature. Perhaps the largest migration spectacle in the world is seen in the Serengeti grasslands of central Africa when annually around two million wildebeest migrate huge distances, crossing wide rivers full of hungry crocodiles, and then return some months later.

Other Puzzles

Hibernation is another unusual thing. Certain animals like the hedgehog, the bat, and some types of squirrel go into a deep sleep for the winter months and then wake up in the spring. During this time their body temperature drops to conserve energy. But how do they stay alive without feeding for so long? How do they know when to fall asleep and waken up? Some females even carry young during hibernation and give birth shortly after waking up!

How do bats see in the dark as they dart about, catching insects on the wing? How do they avoid colliding with each other and with any obstacles? They actually have an inbuilt "radar" or "echolocation" system. They emit short pulses of high frequency sound and receive echoes back to their ears with such precise detail that they are able to locate food supplies and "fly blind" without interference from the echoes from the other bats all around. They actually "see" in the dark by hearing!

There are many other fascinating, unexplained puzzles in all of nature. How does a beautiful butterfly or moth develop from a crawling caterpillar through a hard chrysalis? How does a chameleon’s automatic camouflage system work? What is the strange "dance of the bee" which communicates precise information to the rest of the swarm about food supplies? Why do certain animals bond closely with humans but others don’t?

And it’s not only in the animal kingdom that such questions arise. What about plants and trees? Why and how do deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn, displaying to us such a rich palette of glorious changing colours, then clothe themselves again in every shade of green each springtime, whilst the evergreens keep their colour all year round and often treat us to the silent beauty of their branches crusted with frost or laden with snow on a hard winter’s day?

No one knows the complete answer to such questions. You may be told that scientists have discovered that it is due to the response of enzymes to conditions like light or temperature, or that in the case of animals it has to do with food supplies or suitable breeding habitat, and this is true. But how do they all know when and how to do it and where to go? And where did these regulating enzymes and intricate mechanisms come from? As in most branches of science, the more we discover, the more we find out what we do not know! There are more questions than answers!

Ecclesiastes 3.11 tells us this: "He hath made everything beautiful in his time…[yet] no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end". But the beauty of it is ours to enjoy, the wonder of it ours to appreciate. In all of nature, in all the universe, design is to be found everywhere. It certainly is "intelligent design", but it is more than that - it is ingenious, awesome! It all points us to its great Creator. Both the beauty of the discovered details and the marvel of the unsolved puzzles call us to worship Him!

"Whatsoever God doeth…nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him" (Eccl 3.14).

To be continued.


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