When the creationist website Answers In Genesis sets out to debunk the theory of evolution, it loves to set up red herrings that it thinks will “stump” the theory of evolution and prove their own theory that God made everything all at once, and from scratch. So the AIG folks always set the stage with a cute nod to its readers that they’re going to explain, Oh So Simply, how evolution fails the test of scientific verity. In a post titled Echidna: Outback Oddity, the stage is set this way:
Evolution is hard-pressed to explain this prickly little digger. That’s because the Creator made it like no other single animal.
The intent is pretty clear. Evolution just doesn’t “get” the complexity of nature. Only God can do that. So they go on to complain, with seemingly vexing questions, as to why the animal is such a puzzle among living creatures:
You might think that spiky little animal waddling along the forest floor is a porcupine. But it has a long, sticky tongue and it digs for ants, so maybe it’s some kind of anteater. Nope? Well, it’s a mammal, at least, right? Wait—it lays eggs. Mammals don’t lay eggs. So what is this thing?
In order to understand all these questions in context of their evolution, one must first acknowledge that there is a time and environmental influence scale sufficiently long and diverse enough to provide the various configurations that went into evolving an echidna.
And of course, creationism denies any such time scale exists. The popular claim among the creationist sect is that the human genealogy mapped out in the bible dictates the total age of the earth at about 6,000 years. Some are even willing to admit that it might map out at 10,000 years.
But in any case, these genealogies also require that creationists accept a time scale for human lifespans that in some cases extend for 900 years. You heard that right: creationists insist that at one time human beings were capable of living for nine centuries. That’s almost a millennium.
The oldest known verified lifespan among human beings tops out at about 115 years. So creationists are basing their entire worldview and the age of the earth on an unverified, rendition of oral history before the advent of written language to establish the potential lifespan of human beings. On the website creation.com, the explanation goes like this:
In the book of Genesis, the Bible routinely records human lifespans which seem outrageously different from our experience today. Adam lived to 930 years; Noah even longer, to 950 years (see graph below). These long lifespans are not haphazardly distributed; they are systematically greater before the Flood of Noah, and decline sharply afterwards.
These great ages are not presented in the Bible as if they are in any way extraordinary for their times, let alone miraculous. Many people are quick to scoff at such ages, claiming they are ‘biologically impossible’. Today, even if they avoid all fatal diseases, humans will generally die of old age before they reach much past 100. Even the very exceptional cases don’t make it much past 120 years.
They go on to claim that it was a radically pure form of genetic sustainability and environment at work to produce such long lifespans. Somehow, the earth was simply a better place to live, and that allowed human beings to survive for nearly a millennium.
But even that’s not the end game of the creationism discussion. It has far less to do with biology than it does with theology. As creation.com goes on to explain:
Of course, the ultimate reason for all aging and death is the Curse on all creation recorded in Genesis chapter 3. Adam was told that if he disobeyed God, ‘dying, you shall die’ [lit. Hebrew]. Adam immediately died spiritually, and began to die physically on the very same day, just as we are all dying today.
Modern genetic research shows that we all inherit the inevitability of aging and death. When we look at our encroaching wrinkles in the mirror, it should remind us of the awfulness of sin in the sight of a holy God. And it should cause us immense thankfulness that God has provided a way of escape from His own righteous judgement on sin, through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
So to abide by a creationist’s worldview, we must begin with a massive rationalization of the age of the earth based on the miraculous nature of human lifespan upon which biblical genealogy is based. Thus we must draw on theology as the starting point for any explanation of nature, science and the history of the earth. The limitations of this worldview are breathtaking in their shallow regard for the functions of nature. It’s all “wave of the hand” level thinking cloaked in language stolen from science to justify creationism as a legitimate scientific worldview.
So you can see why creationists love the echidna as a symbol of the inherent complexity of nature and the supposed confusion on the part of evolutionary scientists to seam together the forces of environmental conditions, selective pressures and population adaptations that could produce an animal seemingly constructed from so many sources. How could evolution accomplish such a feat? The goal of creationism is not to explain the possibilities, but to heighten the impossibilities and keep religious thinkers as far from material explanations as possible. This is how that is done:
The echidna seems to break all the rules. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs. It’s warm-blooded, but it has a low body temperature. It lives on land, but it detects food like some fish do. And, like so many other rule-breakers, such as the platypus, the echidna settled in Australia.
That last word in the bunch, “Australia,” is already proof that the case of the creationists against evolution is beginning to break down. It is consistently true that when a population of any creature is forcibly isolated from another through migration or some other happenstance, the isolated population becomes subject to the environmental pressures of that new environment. Some attributes of the ancestors may persist as the population is subjected to the needs for survival in all new circumstances. Even some of the formerly vital functions of a land creature can wind up useless and essentially vestigial as a line of land-based living things shifts to an aquatic lifestyle. The vestigial remnants of hips in whales is an excellent example of how nature “plays” with usefulness and the lack of it.
We also have flightless cormorants on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific. For what good reason would a species of bird perfectly capable of flying in its ancestry relinquish the ability to fly? The answer is simple: Flying costs energy, and cormorants isolated on the Galapagos had no need to fly away from predators that did not exist. The rewards of evolution as sometimes ironic, yet still functionally beneficial.
The same can be said of the echnida. All the attributes wrapped together in a seemingly inconclusive creature are actually quite conclusively beneficial in the habitats of Australia that it occupies. There is a hard, fast rule to evolution that defies any other explanation of existence. If a creature is not equipped to survive or adapt to the habitat available, it will cease to feed and breed, and eventually die out.
This is what has happened to 99% of all living things that ever existed on the earth. Creationists like to claim that every kind of living thing that has ever existed on earth was borne up and carried around in an ark for a year, then released back onto the surface of the earth. This is a pathetically shortsighted view of how nature functions. There is no explanation of how highly specific lifestyles of desert scorpions in the Southwest United States were somehow able to migrate across salty oceans or through freezing landscapes across the Bering Straits to arrive at the Middle East where Noah waited with the appropriate food to nurture and regenerate entire populations of such specialized creatures in this world.
But as we’ve seen, that is not really the issue at heart with creationism. It is always about confession of sin and the admission that God is in control, and that nature cannot possibly operate on its own. Again, we find evidence of this religious worldview as the Answers In Genesis site struggles to justify its case:
Evolutionists have always had trouble explaining how it’s related to any other animal. So instead, to explain its oddities they invoke “convergent evolution” (the belief that a similar “need” produces similar designs in completely unrelated animals). But creationists understand that the echidna’s traits point to a Creator who made many unique kinds of animals.
The idea that all these attributes could have converged in a single creature is anathema to creationism because its worldview is so constrained in timespan that it must use shortcuts to explain anything, or everything. The most (and only) convenient justification for this shortcut in time and complexity is a very literal interpretation of the opening chapters in the Book of Genesis.
In other words, creationism demands that people accept the laws of nature were radically broken in terms of human lifespan in order to assert the claim that the earth could not possibly be old enough to allow evolution to happen. That conflicted worldview is the convergence of great irony, human arrogance, fear and selfishness into one singular creationist mindset.
In other words, the better question we should be God is why the world should create such a conflicted creature as the creationist. After all, Jesus was quite at home with the concept that the natural world could be a source of great wisdom. He taught using parables steeped in organic truths. And he lectured his disciples when they expressed fear that people could never understand his message if he did not talk in literal terminology.
He called them “dull” and “without understanding” for these claims. Which makes the closing argument about the echidna found in Answers In Genesis sound painfully desperate for approval and justification. The authors begin to sound like children desperate to have their fifth grade theme paper graded with an “A” when in fact it is frightfully obvious they never did the research in the first place. Instead they credit God on the basis that no great teacher could give them a failing grade if they quote the Almighty.
Echidnas are just one example of how our Creator filled the earth with abundant, diverse, unique life that speaks of His handiwork, not evolution. These quirky little monotremes simultaneously demand and defy categorization. But whatever classification rules they may break, in demonstrating the creativity of our great God they obey His command, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6)!
As noted, Jesus didn’t give his disciples or the Chief Priests a pass when they exhibited such dogmatic ignorance and legalistic tendencies. Neither should we when creationists try to use scientific sounding language to make a legalistic case for the primacy of God in material processes. There is plenty of meaning to draw from nature without relegating it to a pathetically tiny backseat in human history. Just ask Jesus.