Life Imitates Art

I've always felt that evolution is so fascinating to its friends and foes alike, not only because it has real explanatory power for certain aspects of why organisms act like they do and are built like they are, but even more because evolution embodies one of the great mythic stories of the modern age. There is something enormously attractive about the plucky hero who overcomes various forces all bent on his annihilation, only to survive and prosper and see his children grow fruitful and multiply ("All dinosaurs from the enormous Brachiosaurs to the terrifying Tyrannosaurs trace their origins back to small bird-like reptiles like Coelophysis."). It's a great first act!

Equally great is the second act, where the hero, like David plucked from the sheepfold and made king of Israel, moves on to unthinkable heights and glories and becomes King of land, sea, and air as he and his kind assume a wide variety of forms beautiful, terrifying, majestic, grotesque, and comic in the Jurassic period. And, like every good tragedy, the drama ends in stupendous death and heart-wrenching loss. In the very hour of his prosperity, the hero either begins to fade due to the mortal sickness of Change ("Gradually, nature turned against the mighty sauropods and their numbers began to dwindle as their food supply dried up") or is doomed because of some apocalypse that hangs over his head ("Three thousand miles to the south, even as the majestic tyrannosaurs are feasting, a comet is about to strike the Gulf of Mexico with the force of a hundred billion Hiroshima bombs! This is the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs!") It's a perfect dramatic arc and one of the most satisfying mythic structures in the world. To paraphrase Voltaire, if dinosaurs did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent them just because their story is so strangely moving to us. It a sort of cosmic commentary on Paul's statement that creation has been subjected to futility (Romans 8:20).

Which, of course, makes me think dinosaurs were invented by a God who was not unaware of the mythic power of the story. And I think this all the more since, despite the enormous power of evolutionary theory to explain some things, I also note that there are still things about creation which force me to see an Artist rather than Chance as the guiding Hand behind it all.

Take, f'rinstance, the Coconut Crab. Here's a critter that starts as a random egg in the briny deep. After several molts, he grows from a plankton to the size of a couple basketballs (and after dodging a predator or two), and (despite receiving no instruction on how to do coconut crab things from his mommy) crawls up on an island. It is an island he's never seen before and knows nothing about (due to the fact his itsy-bitsy crab brain is pretty much a glorified ganglion). Then, with little waving stalk eyes that can barely see, he crawls over to a coconut tree he's never seen before and climbs it. At the top, he snips off a coconut he's never seen before, crawls back down the tree and gropes around till he finds the coconut. Then, with limbs specially adapted for this, he cuts into the coconut and chows down.

Some people of astonishingly robust faith call this creature a product of mindless forces. I, not able to muster such brute faith, call him a work of art. I suppose somewhere and sometime natural selection may have been an implement used in chiseling his amazing form, just as Michaelangelo used a chisel among other tools to do his art. But just as Michaelangelo was still the artist behind the David so God was still the artist behind the coconut crab and the author of the great mythic tale that is Creation.

Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea