Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cicada killers and the Fall

The flower bed between our driveway and our home appears to be an attractive place for cicada-killers to make their burrows and this summer is no exception. For those people unfamiliar with cicada-killers, these are really large wasps which find a cicada in a tree, paralyze it by stinging, then carry it back to their underground burrows, where they lay an egg on it, which feeds upon the cicada as it grows and develops. If you’re interested in learning more about these wasps, check out this page.

These wasps have attracted my attention for several reasons. Firstly, they’re quite big and scary, even though they’re relatively harmless to humans. I’m told that we’re more likely to die from any chemicals we would use to try to control them than from the wasps themselves. These insects are interested in cicadas, not people. Still, any guests coming up our driveway will find it somewhat disconcerting to get out of the car amongst a dozen or so of these creatures flying around (and mating). I’m somewhat torn in deciding what to do with them. Ecologically, they do a good thing, which is to control the numbers of those noisy cicadas, but I just wish they would do their thing somewhere else besides along my driveway.

Secondly, I find their biology gruesome but fascinating. They know just where to sting the cicadas, so as not to kill them, but merely paralyze them. Dead cicadas would decay and grow mold, which is not good for the larvae. In addition, these insects are just barely strong enough to carry the cicadas back to their burrow, and it’s actually a funny sight to see them struggling with their enormous load, twice as big as they are. Female larvae grow bigger than males, so the mother needs to bury two cicadas for every female larva but just one for a male (The mother controls the sex of the offspring by deciding whether or not to fertilize the egg. Unfertilized eggs are male, just as in bees).

Thirdly, I’ve wondered about the theology of these wasps and their life cycle. If animal death is a result of the Fall, how did these creatures live beforehand? The developing larvae need a source of food, where would it have come from, if not from cicadas? Did the present system immediately evolve once Adam and Eve ate of the fruit? These are rhetorical questions of course because I believe these creatures behaved this way long before Adam and Eve ever roamed the earth.

What is the Creation Science response to the death of insects? It is generally claimed that insects are not nephesh i.e. having the breath of life, because insects lack lungs, so they could have died before the Fall (for example see the note at the bottom of this page). The fact that insects still use air, but through spiracles along the sides of their bodies, apparently doesn’t count as breathing. I find this distinction between creatures that have the breath of life and those that don’t somewhat arbitrary and have a hard time believing that someone as educated as Moses wouldn’t think that insects are alive.

Here again we see an example of Creation Science distorting the meaning of the Biblical text to suit their misconception that the Bible teaches science. On the contrary, I see cicada-killers as yet another animal that seeks its food from God (Psalm 104:21), in this case through cicadas.

11 comments:

Aren said...

I have a question regarding the theology of these wasps. Is it safe to assume that Noah didn't include these Cicada killers on the ark because they didn't exist yet? After the flood could not these creatures have arisen due to microevolution in their differing environments.
Thanks,

Aren Van Dyke

Tony Jelsma said...

Aren,
I have no idea whether Noah included these wasps on the ark but I seriously doubt that microevolutionary changes could occur quickly enough to account for diversification from a pair of wasps to the many different types that exist today. We're talking about just a few thousand years.

Rob Van Middelkoop said...

Tony,

How do you align what you said in your post, "These are rhetorical questions of course because I believe these creatures behaved this way long before Adam and Eve ever roamed the earth," with Genesis 1:20-25? If one was to include these killer wasps with the birds on the basis that they both fly, the greatest time that elapsed between Adam and Eve "roaming the earth" is one day. To make my question more precise, how do you understand one day to be qualified as "long before Adam and Eve roamed the earth?"

Tony Jelsma said...

Hi Rob,
There are several interpretations of the days of Genesis 1 that are held by Reformed believers, including the Day-Age view, the Framework view and the Analogical Days view, which do not interpret the days as literal 24 hour days.
Both cicadas and wasps have been around for over 125 million years as shown in the fossil record.

Jim Witteveen said...

Dr. Jelsma, In your response to Mr. Van Middelkoop, you write, "Both cicadas and wasps have been around for over 125 million years as shown in the fossil record."

This statement seems to show a great deal of confidence in current scientific understanding. I'm wondering how you justify that confidence, given that the evidence has been interpreted in various ways over time, and even at present? Wouldn't it be better to say, "According to the popular understanding of the fossil record now current (always, of course, subject to amendment), both cicadas and wasps have been around for 125 million years"?

Tony Jelsma said...

Hi Jim,
I agree with you that the interpretation of scientific evidence is always subject to revision. However, "According to the popular understanding of the fossil record now current (always, of course, subject to amendment)" seems quite cumbersome and unnecessary.

Can you show me where the evidence of the fossil record "has been interpreted in various ways over time, and even at present?"

David Pol said...

Tony,
You said "Here again we see an example of Creation Science distorting the meaning of the Biblical text to suit their misconception that the Bible teaches science. On the contrary, I see cicada-killers as yet another animal that seeks its food from God (Psalm 104:21), in this case through cicadas."

Creation Science backs up their line of thinking with Romans 5:12:
"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—"

Just curious, you seem to insinuate that death came into the world before Adam and the fall into sin. Taking the evolutionary worldview into account, don't we lose the fall into sin?

Tony Jelsma said...

David,
Thanks for your comment. The context of the Romans 5:12 passage clearly is about humans. To suggest that this passage refers to animal death is inconsistent with the context.

The Bible does not claim that one animal killing another for food is a result of sin, so neither will I.

Secondly, I did not take the evolutionary worldview into account and I certainly do uphold mankind's fall into sin, as stated in Romans 5.

Daniel Pol said...

Hi Tony,

I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Dr. Emil Silvestru a while back in which he mentioned "nephesh chayyah" as well. I found your response to the Creation Science interpretation interesting.

You wrote that you find the distinction between creatures that have the breath of life and those that don’t somewhat arbitrary; I suppose, in the assumption that the concept "nephesh chayyah" describes only the function of respiration in living creatures.

The article you cited in reference to "nephesh" states directly that insects are probably not ‘living creatures’ ...in the Biblical sense. I think the author intends to communicate here that the meaning of “breath of life” is better understood as a “consciousness” or “sentience” that God grants man and certain creatures. Man is specifically described as "nephesh chayyah," a living soul, after God breathed the breath of life into him. This is also what Dr. Silvestru talked about.

With that in mind, would you still ask “If animal death is a result of the Fall, how did these creatures live beforehand,” and say that you “find this distinction between creatures that have the breath of life and those that don’t somewhat arbitrary”? I would argue that the role of cicada killers as we see them today would not violate the “goodness” of the pre-fallen creation. In the same way, leaves withering and plants dying - even accidentally stepping on a cicada killer - would hardly be considered symptoms of a sinful world.

Thank you for the post,
Daniel Pol
Carman, MB

Tony Jelsma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Jelsma said...

I'll try this again.

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for your question. You said, "I think the author intends to communicate here that the meaning of "breath of life" is better understood as a "consciousness" or "sentience" that God grants man and certain creatures."

Can you explain to me why you think this? What criteria God would use to endow some animals with this consciousness and not others?

While some animals may seem to be more "conscious" than others, connecting this to being able to breathe seems somewhat arbitrary.