Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Don't bicker about how animals got here. Just take care of them!

Portrait of the Pianist as a Young Toddler

As a child, my daughter had a rare sensitivity to mosquito bites. After a bite, she didn’t get the welt most of us do, and it didn’t itch. But hours later, the entire surrounding area was swollen and hot to the touch, and a histamine-filled blister started forming. By the next day, the blister could be an inch and a half in diameter and rise an inch above the surrounding, swollen tissue. When she was a baby, she reacted like this to every single mosquito bite. Over time, she grew less sensitive to many species, and now it’s overall quite manageable.

But while she was a baby, I once saw a mosquito on her baby finger. I instantly swatted it away, but too late. Over the following hours, the skin on her tiny finger swelled and swelled until it looked like a sausage, so stretched that the skin looked about to burst. We rushed her to the emergency room. 

When I explained what had happened, the doctor on duty argued that this could not possibly be a mosquito bite—it HAD to be a bee sting. He lectured me about the difference between bee stings and mosquito bites in a most patronizing and condescending way. That got my Irish up, which was counterproductive—I held my ground for far too many minutes while the skin on my baby’s finger continued to swell and she cried and cried. Finally, I asked if the treatment would be different if this were a bee sting rather than a mosquito bite, and he said it wouldn’t—no matter what, he had to drain the fluid to help my baby. So I told him to just do it. 

I’ve been thinking about this lately when I hear people arguing about creation vs. evolution. I was raised Catholic, and as a child born in 1951, never perceived any contradictions between the two. In science classes taught by nuns, we learned that Charles Darwin had brilliantly figured out that species evolved in a wondrously complex system. One of our teachers said it would have been a cruel God indeed who could have specifically created every individual disease organism that caused so much pain and death to innocent little babies—I think that was the first time I ever heard the expression "with malice aforethought." No, God created a magnificent, complicated system. She said the Bible’s six days of creation were not meant to be literal—a “day” in Genesis was simply shorthand for an unspecified period of time that could have been moments or billions of years. She told us that our Catholic belief was that God started it all, and when human beings came about, God breathed a soul into us. It hardly mattered whether His starting material was a clod of mud or an ape. I figured the human mind is big enough to question how the world works and search for provable answers using the scientific method, and great enough to wrap around science and faith both.

Many people’s minds, for one reason or another, do not wrap around science and faith both. Modern civilization has a scientific underpinning, but even as religious people of all stripes take advantage of medical and technological advances, some of them remain skeptical of the very science that ended the scourges of polio and smallpox, figured out how to make water consistently safe to drink, and helps them recover from many illnesses.

In the same way that science deniers still take advantage of scientific advances, it seems like those of us who understand and accept the evolutionary underpinnings of biology might more wisely use our energy not to argue about it but to simply accept that many people’s faith will not be budged. Arguing is counterproductive when no matter what we think or believe, we can all see biodiversity as a wondrous and valuable thing. Whether Spotted Owls or Whooping Cranes or Black-capped Vireos are a gift that God specifically created or a species that evolved over eons, we should be working together, liberal and conservative, religious and non-religious, partisan and non-partisan, to protect it. Does it matter whether the motivation is that every species is an irreplaceable component of an ecosystem, or that God commanded Noah to save every single species? Either way, just do it.

Whooping Crane