When we look at nature, what do we see? Is nature a simple display of a few basic components that are all alike? Or is nature found to be far more complex than we ever dreamed possible? When God created the universe, He made a construction that we can only begin to comprehend with our limited knowledge. So perhaps we can focus on the Earth to try to understand one small speck of creation. When previous generations tried to comprehend our world, they found such intricacies that they often resorted to superstition to explain the mysteries. Modern science has delved deeply into the lives of plants and animals and the ways they interact. But instead of reaching the end of the mysteries, science has only uncovered new questions that lead to even more mysteries. In fact science is as far from solving the intricacies of nature now as it was centuries ago.
God made life more interlocked than seems possible. Plants and animals and the world that supports them are meshed together in a web of interactions. We have found that every form of life is dependent on another form. If we pluck one thread of life, we find it attached to the rest of creation. Plants require both animals and other plants. Animals require both plants and other animals. Both plants and animals require the minerals, gases, and weather that the planet provides.
And we have found the same is true of us. Humans are more dependent than we realize on the complex interactions of all life around us. Often we assume that we are so advanced in technology and civilization that we are now immune to what happens in nature. But with each new discovery and each new interaction found, we find that we actually depend on a great many other forms of life for our own existence. Rather than being impregnably secure, humans are actually on a knife-edge of survival, relying on a host of other organisms for our very existence. This is no surprise, as God has created all life to be dependent on other life.
So what are the interactions that we need to survive? Is it really true that without a particular animal, we would die? And if so, which ones? We would be well advised to discover and protect the animals we need to keep us alive. In this program, we will examine those processes God established on Earth that maintain human life, and the individual animals that make those processes work. We might be surprised which are the most important animals to our survival.
Of course, everything we see today on Earth is God's backup plan. The perfect world of Eden was a very different place than what we see now. No death, disease, danger, or competition existed. When sin began, almost every aspect of life had to change. God had to totally remake His original creation. Without drastic intervention, life on earth would likely have ceased to exist. So we should remember that the nature we study today is not God's original plan, but rather, His temporary way of dealing with the curse of sin. Also, it should be noted that everything I say here is a simplified version of the complexities existing in nature. To go into excessive detail would needlessly confuse the issue. There are exceptions and subtleties to every area we will examine.
We will first look at the plant world. Without plants, the survival of most animal life is impossible. Plants produce the oxygen animals must breathe. No plants, no more breathing. But there is a second major service plants provide. Food! Without plants most life will starve. Even predators depend on plants to feed their vegetarian prey. So whatever keeps plants alive is obviously crucial.
Plants grow from a seed, reach maturity, and then reproduce the next generation. Plants usually reproduce by cross-pollination. This gives plants diverse genes that keep them healthy. Some plants, especially conifer trees, let wind blow their pollen randomly. But most plants use animals to spread their pollen to others of their species, including most food plants we eat. 70% of flowering plants need insects to pollinate them, including two thirds of our crops. Plants attract specific animals to their flowers, place pollen on animals, and gather pollen brought to them by animals. So now we will examine animal pollinators, as they must do the job of pollination or we will die.
Bats pollinate many desert and tropical plants. They drink nectar from night flowers and carry pollen on their fur. Birds that drink nectar do the same thing with day-blooming flowers. But relatively few birds or mammals pollinate. Of the other vertebrates, only some gecko species regularly visit flowers and carry pollen, especially in jungles. The vast majority of pollination is done by insects.
The insect pollinators are legion. Butterflies by day, moths by night. Bees and wasps either visit many varieties or are specialized for a single species. We all know that honeybees industriously drink from flowers, but native bees, usually small, are actually much more important in keeping plants thriving. Localized bee species are the backbone of healthy habitats. Some bees, such as bumblebees, vibrate their bodies at a specific frequency to loosen pollen grains for collection. Certain plants require this buzz-pollination for existence. Beetles come in so many forms that it's no surprise that a large group are pollinators. Tiny beetles are often abundant, all working hard feeding themselves and keeping their food source successful. We think of flies as biters and spreaders of disease, but only a few do so. Most drink nectar from all types of flowers. Flies have scent detectors on their head and large eyes with color vision to help them find flowers. Taste receptors on their legs and feet let flies taste the flowers. We know of over 1100 plant species pollinated by flies.
So when it comes to our food, clothing made from plants, and the very air we breathe, we depend on the great insect world in all its many forms. This is why pesticides have been so dangerous. For every harmful insect species killed, many more harmless and beneficial species are also destroyed. Every insect form lost will mean the plants that rely on them will be lost too. Areas in China that have lost insect pollinators now require humans to hand pollinate each individual flower. Do we really want to take on the arduous job of pollinating our food ourselves? Insects pollinate plants for free and are happy to do it! Temporarily reducing mosquitoes is not worth losing our food supply. In one case alone, 50,000 bumblebees were killed after insecticides were sprayed in trees to kill aphids. This was in a shopping center parking lot near Portland, OR. 50,000 bumblebees from one application of insecticides. Is killing a few aphids the easy way really worth it?
DECOMPOSITION AND WASTE REMOVAL
If pollination is the science of the continuation of life, then decomposition is the science of the end of life. Death is always a tragedy, never part of God's original plan, and will be eradicated when all is made new. But for now, death is an element of existence that we cannot ignore. At the time of the fall, God recreated a huge segment of the life He made to deal with the new reality of death. If He hadn't, nothing would have lasted for long, as we will see.
When a body dies, animal or plant, the cells cease to function, but they don't disappear by themselves. Other organisms are needed to physically break them down and recycle the nutrients for use again. Whole new kinds of life, unneeded in perfect Eden, became indispensable. Bacteria, which is neither animal nor plant, was tasked to do this on the microscopic scale. Fungi, another unique form of life, also became a force for decomposition, attacking both dead plants and animals. Fungi is incredibly diverse and has many beautiful forms. But the real work of fungi happens invisibly in the dead wood and soil and grass all around us.
Aiding these microscopic workers are the slightly more visible animals digesting dead plant and animal cells. Beetles are fantastic in this area, both as adults and larva. Munching away on dead wood, larva break wood down to even smaller parts that can be tackled by bacteria. Carpenter Ants grind up dead wood in bulk, turning it into sawdust. Dust mites live in our homes and devour the skin we shed constantly. Without them we would be wading through our own lost skin cells like snow.
Beetle larva also tackle animal corpses. Carrion beetles arrive from far and wide as soon as an animal dies. Dermestid or skin beetles are so efficient at stripping flesh from bone that museum curators use them to clean skeletons before mounting. Many flies lay their eggs on dead bodies, and their larva quickly eat it. Many adult wasps feed their young with flesh they have scavenged. Yellow jackets and other hornets are like small vultures, cleaning up tiny bodies before they rot. Normal vultures do the same on a much larger scale. They are among the many birds that scavenge, like Caracaras and Ravens and Marabou Storks. Many mammals do the same. Jackals, hyenas, and foxes all specialize in following other predators and cleaning up leftovers. Lobsters clean up the seafloor, removing decaying carcasses. Conch and whelk snails eat dead fish as well, using a long tube mouth to reach into small spaces. Water snakes eat dead and dying fish before bacteria can pollute our fresh water. Wolverines are as happy to scavenge as they are to hunt for live prey.
Why is all this important? Without plant decomposers, all dead plants would lock up the nutrients they had absorbed during life. With no nutrient recycling, the soil would become impoverished to the point of uselessness. Plus the heaps of dead plants would soon pile so high as to bury everything around them. Nothing new could grow and eventually all life on Earth, including us, would cease. But thanks to the decomposers, decaying plant cells release nutrients for reuse by the next generation of growth, and so life continues. Animal corpses have an additional complication. As they putrefy, corpses foster disease, and so need to be removed as quickly as possible. So all the varieties of scavengers are vital in maintaining a clean habitat, and preventing disease. Again, without scavengers, dead bodies would soon cover the landscape and make life unbearable.
There is one more related area that needs addressing. Waste removal. When vertebrate animals leave waste behind, it is a health hazard. Even when some animals, like cats, carefully bury their waste, that still doesn't solve the problem. Someone has to clean it up and prevent contamination from spreading. Many specialized insects are tasked with this important cleanup, but the most famous are the dung beetles. Found throughout the world in desert and grassland ecosystems, 6000 dung beetle species are vital in cleaning up the dung of many herbivores. By burying waste, they achieve soil aeration and fertilization, reduce fly and parasitic worm numbers, and plant seeds in safe growing spots. A beetle finds a fresh manure pile and goes to work, carving out a ball to lay her eggs on. Usually, she will need to move it to a proper place to bury it, and so the great backwards rolling expedition begins. She will push her treasure over every obstacle until she finds the perfect spot. She can roll a ball fifty times her own weight. They are the only insect proven to navigate by starlight, using the Milky Way as a guide. Star gazing beetles! How about that?
SOIL AND WATER PROCESSING
In order for plants to grow properly, soil needs to be well aerated and well fertilized with various nutrients. Enter the many species of humble earthworm. Feeding underground on soil, they break up compacted soil into much healthier loam, ready for plant germination. Also, soil goes in one end of the worm and fertilizer comes out the other end. A healthy earthworm population processes forty tons of dirt per acre every year. Other insect burrowers including ants, beetles, and millipedes process soil as well. Ants may even be the most essential in bringing minerals to the surface to replenish our topsoil. So we can thank these tiny hidden creatures for productive soil.
Clean water is mandatory to human existence. As water gets dirty, a cleanup system engages to purify it. Marshes and swamps clean the water that passes through them by filtering out toxins. God gave us wetlands to be a giant filtration system catching impurities in the water. As these habitats have been drained and filled with soil, the water flowing through does not get cleaned, resulting in polluted drinking water and poisoned animals. One of the key animals for cleaning water is the mussel. Found in flowing fresh water, mussels burrow into the mud and pump water through their bodies using powerful siphons. They filter out their microscopic food and in the process remove pollution from the water. One mussel can filter over 18 gallons of water every day. Amazingly, some mussels have been found to live over a century, never moving from their chosen spot. God certainly gave the mussel a supply of patience when He handed out gifts to His animals!
In salt water, oysters and clams and scallops do the same job cleaning out toxins from the water, storing them in their bodies in ever increasing amounts. In recent years, these animals have registered some of the most polluted bodies in the sea. Without them taking the brunt of our contamination, sea water would have deteriorated much faster and reduced our own survival.
Since we know how important plants are to our survival, any animals that care for plants are crucial as well. Many animals are gardeners, planting seeds for their own purposes. Ants are especially adept at this, tending both flowers and whole trees around the world. The Acacia Ant lives inside hollow thorns of acacia trees, driving away any animal or plant that threatens or competes with the tree. The acacia provides sweet ant nectar from wells as a reward for the ants to drink. With all their food and shelter needs provided for, the ants can focus on attacking any plant and animal that comes near their acacia home. Banana Slugs aid the sprouts of giant Redwood trees, by eliminating the competition. So slugs in their natural habitat can be helpful gardeners. Bats transport rainforest fruit seeds to new locations. Birds do the same in every warm habitat on Earth. They eat the seeds, the seeds pass unharmed through the birds system, and get dropped with a bit of fertilizer to get them started. In some cases, seeds can only grow after they have passed through the intestines of a specific mammal, such as African acacia seeds eaten by elephants.
Grass is an enormously crucial plant, relied on for food by many animals. It grows very fast from underground runners. Grasslands have been described as upside down forests, as most of each grass plant grows underground. When grazers eat the aboveground leaves, the underground stem allows instant regrowth. Fresh grass is more easily digested than old tough grass, so the faster grass is eaten, the more nutritious the grassland will be. Cows, antelopes, rhinos, sheep, horses and rabbits are all built to eat grass, keeping the grass renewed. But the most important grazers are not what we might expect.
Termites abound in every tropical grassland. There are a half-ton of termites for every human being on Earth! Each mound contains several million individuals, all working to maintain the colony. Grassland termite species feed on grass, clipping them down to the ground, letting new growth spring up. Grasshoppers do the same thing in temperate grasslands. Even before Bison were destroyed from the Great Plains, grasshoppers were as important as Bison in eating grass. Rather than being pests out to eat our crops, God designed grasshoppers to cycle nutrients to keep the habitat healthy.
Trees have mutual interactions with funguses that keep them healthy. Funguses attach to underground roots and enable them to absorb water and nutrients more efficiently. As new seedlings sprout, they bond with the funguses around them, giving them the best chance of survival. When clear-cutting removes the entire forest from a landscape, there are negative results. The sun dries and heats the exposed ground and kills the local funguses. If there are uncut forests nearby, the funguses can recolonize the newly planted seedlings. But when clear-cuts devastate too large an area, the fungus partners are lost and the regrown forests are crippled.
We now know that 80% of plant species have symbiotic relationships with funguses. So animals that maintain the fungus populations are very important. Principal among these in temperate forests are rodents such as voles, pocket gophers, and deer mice. They dig up truffles and other species and spread spores throughout the forest. The health of giant trees hundreds of years old, and the entire ecosystems they support, can ultimately be traced to the tiny mammals scurrying through the branches or undergrowth. God uses these humble creatures to maintain His special gardens.
When it comes to soil health and the grass and trees we depend on, there is an exceptionally complicated network of microbes, plants, animals, and funguses maintaining the whole. Most of these are still barely understood, and more interactions are being discovered constantly. As we cut down forests, spray pesticides and herbicides irresponsibly, and kill animals, we break connections and destroy vital processes God established long ago. Destroying the network we depend on is an unintelligent plan.
There is one more benefit that plants provide humans besides air or food. Modern studies have found that experiencing nature results in physical and mental healing. People heal better and faster in a country setting than a city one. Patients looking at visual scenes of flowers and flowing water and forests have a reduction of pain levels, even during surgery. Exercise experienced in a natural setting increases its effectiveness when compared to exercise experienced indoors or on city streets. God revealed this to His messenger over a century ago. "Nature is God's physician. The pure air, the glad sunshine, the beautiful flowers and trees, the orchards and vineyards, and outdoor exercise amid these surroundings, are health-giving—the elixir of life.... There are life- giving properties in the balsam of the pine, in the fragrance of the cedar and the fir. And there are other trees that are health-promoting. Let no such trees be ruthlessly cut down. Cherish them where they are abundant, and plant more where there are but few." Testimonies Vol. 7, p. 76-77.
Satan knows this and has tricked people into fearing nature as dangerous. Biophobia is a real mental disease that the devil inflicts upon many people. The same people that happily drive around cities in the death traps we call cars are scared to take a walk in the woods where they think animals are waiting to attack them around every corner. In the United States, an average of 40,000 people are killed every year in auto accidents. Around 88,000 die from drinking alcohol. And a staggering 500,000 die from tobacco use, including 50,000 non- smokers who are killed from secondhand smoke. Less than 100 Americans are killed by wild animals each year. And most of these deaths are allergic reactions to honey bee stings, not the extremely rare predator attacks overhyped by the media. Spiders only account for about 7 deaths, and snakes only cause about 5 deaths a year. No animal you can think of kills even a fraction as many people as car accidents, smoking, or poor diets. Satan fools people into fearing the activities in nature that will actually heal their mind and body. You should be far more terrified of the smoker you pass on the street than the snake in your backyard. The real danger to our health comes not from the wild but from civilization.
Animals feeding upon other animals is a complicated topic for a creationist. I examined this in depth in my presentation Red in Tooth and Claw, so will only summarize here. Without predators in our world, animals would overpopulate and soon starve. The animals that feed on other animals, the predators, are indispensable in maintaining other animal populations at healthy levels. When predators are eliminated by humans, their prey soon overpopulates, spread disease, and die in large crashes. So all predators are crucial to maintaining healthy ecosystems and all the life that depends on them, including us.
Predators come in all sizes and forms. Every type of animal has predators among its ranks. From the largest animal on Earth, the Blue Whale, to tiny insects such as assassin bugs, we find predators. They form an indispensable part of every ecosystem, land or sea, on Earth. Remove predators from any habitat and the system immediately begins to break down. Restore them and life begins to stabilize. For example, Gray Wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park have changed the entire ecosystem for the better. Thanks to wolves reducing the overpopulation of Elk, many overgrazed areas are recovering. Surprisingly, wolves have aided species such as the Quaking Aspen, goldeneye ducks, and Grizzly Bears. Once the Elk numbers reached a healthier level, the damage caused by them was eliminated and the habitats revived, especially streamside areas.
Despite these proven benefits, wolves and all other predators are hated and destroyed savagely. Around the world, snakes and otters and seals have been senselessly slaughtered because of their diet. Hawks, owls, and eagles get the shoot on sight treatment as well. We poison predatory fish so that we can have more game fish for our exploitation. Around the Great Lakes, cormorants are being pointlessly destroyed at the whims of fishermen. All of this is a visceral reaction to systems we don't understand, as we eliminate the animals that keep these systems healthy.
Some of the most crucial predators are the insect eaters. For every human being on Earth, an estimated 200 million insects exist. Due to insects' enormous reproductive abilities, we need all the help we can get in keeping even the beneficial ones from taking over. Chief among our allies are the spiders. They are actually insect catching specialists. Some actively chase their prey, pursuing small insects and using their venom to subdue them. Wolf spiders are named for the large canines to illustrate their hunting prowess. Lynx spiders make up another group of often brightly colored ambush spiders. Night crawling spiders emerge after dark to hunt. Spitting spiders spit glue onto prey, gumming them down until they can be eaten. Jumping spiders have extremely diverse colors and forms, some very flamboyant. They leap upon prey like leopards, using the best vision that God gave to any spiders. They are the only spiders that will relate to us, turning curiously to watch us as we watch them. Many spiders use silk to make insect traps. Orb weavers lay out a large web that catches insects with sticky threads. Sheet webs are non-sticky webs that entangle prey long enough for the spider to seize it. Dozens of other web styles snare insects in different ways. Without spiders catching their food, we would be overrun with insects, and nobody wants that. Every time we crush a spider, we are allowing hundreds of insects to live and reproduce. Rather than an enemy, spiders are our allies that God has tasked in keeping insects controlled. The mosquito carrying the disease that will kill you can be caught and eaten by a spider first, but only if you don't kill the spider!
Spiders are classed as arachnids, but there are several other insect-eating arachnid groups besides spiders. They are some of the strangest looking life forms God ever created. Solifuges race after insect prey at up to ten miles per hour in deserts around the world. The hairs that cover them detect odors, vibrations and chemicals. When they catch a meal, they chew it up with their venormous jaws. Pseudoscorpions are micro predators that can live in many strange places, such as pinecones, caves, or even under the wings of beetles. Most carry their babies in a pouch and feed them a form of milk! Vinegarones subdue food by spraying vinegar-scented acid from their tail. They use their heavy front pincers to hold prey, and their delicate second pair of legs as feelers. Harvestmen tiptoe around trees and on the ground, sometimes gathering into dense clusters. Note that they are not spiders, as spiders have a body divided into two distinct parts. In humid tropics, tailless whipscorpions grab their quarry with long bent front legs that they can fold out of the way. They are so flat that they can live safely under loose tree bark. Scorpions use their venomous stinger to subdue their insect prey. Of all of these weird arachnids, only some of the scorpions pose any danger to man. The rest are all totally harmless, despite their fearsome appearances. Humans have invented artificial ideas of beauty and ugliness and condemn those animals which don't fit our prejudices. But as the writer Montaigne wrote, "Those which we call monsters are not so with God."
But we've only looked at the arachnids that feast on insects. There are many others that do this important job. Insect feeding bats are especially well designed for this, as one bat can catch 2000-3000 insects every night. A single colony eats hundreds of tons per night. Insectivore mammals like shrews eat their weight in insects every day. They scurry through the ground cover, pouncing on any small prey they can find. Some ant species raid in swarms, devouring all insect life in their path. Praying Mantis seize food with their strong, fast forearms. Chameleons snag insects with a long sticky tongue. A single bird captures thousands of insects to feed themselves and their chicks. 90% of birds feed on insects at some stage of their life. Anteaters slurp up tens of thousands of ants or termites with their enormously long tongue. Frogs sit by the water and eat mosquitoes as they emerge, before they can do any harm. Flycatchers dash out from a high tree perch and snag flying insects. Dragonflies and damselflies spend all day grabbing insects, while their young do the same underwater to aquatic insect larva. Fence and rock lizards pick off flies wherever they land. Swallows rake the air for the gnats and flies they need. Armadillos shuffle through soil and leaf litter as they smell their way to lunch. Even fish get in on the insect action by leaping above the surface to grab low flyers. This is only a tiny list of insect feeders. Every species contributes to the effort of maintaining insects below explosion populations. When predators are killed, deliberately or accidentally, the insects are able to increase, and this has often happened. When exploding insect levels eat our food supply, spread disease, or invade our homes, we often find that the controlling predators have been lost through our own carelessness or cruelty.
The entire system of predation is part of the intricate system called the food web. Many people think humans are at the center of the food chain. But in reality every animal and plant on Earth is part of this interconnected web, since life cannot exist apart from it. Plants are fed upon by herbivores, and predators catch both herbivores and other predators. Every animal is built to eat specific types of food, and cannot just change to another food source on a whim. In grasslands, birds are dependent on grasshoppers to raise their chicks. If the grasshoppers are destroyed, so are the birds. Prairie birds have starved many times after insecticides have destroyed their food.
Some animals eat many types of food. If they lose a critical food source at a key time of year, it won't matter if the rest of the year's food is abundant. For example, Grizzly Bears feed on grass, berries, meat, fish, and grubs, depending on the time of year. For the bears in Yellowstone National Park, for a few weeks each year bears climb the mountains and start overturning rocks where cutworm moths gather. A single bear eats 10,000-40,000 moths every day. In one month a bear will eat a fourth of his caloric intake for the entire year! If they miss their moth feast, they enter hibernation undernourished and may starve.
When any part of the food chain is lost, a ripple takes place that affects everything in the web. Lose enough pieces and the effect is magnified. Eventually a crash will devastate the local ecosystem, leaving very few working parts left. We depend on these systems as well, so when we lose them, we end up hurting ourselves.
Examples of this can be found around the world, but are especially obvious in the oceans. When the Newfoundland fishermen of Canada overfished the Cod, a collapse occurred that destroyed their industry. Over twenty years later, the Cod are still gone and are not coming back. To deflect criticism for their incompetence, the Canadian government and the fishing industry created a false scapegoat of the Harp Seal. They claim that seals are destroying the Cod, when in reality seals eat other fish that eat Cod. So now savage men slaughter hundreds of thousands of baby seals every year, hoping to exterminate them completely. Killing is done in the most barbaric, cruel conditions imaginable, and the ocean system continues to disintegrate. We are destroying our own life- support system by our stubborn foolishness.
Many pieces of many habitats have already been lost. Some have been lost for so long that we don't even realize what we are missing or how impoverished nature has become. When John Muir walked across the Central Valley of California a century ago, he described endless flower fields in pristine grasslands. None of that complex habitat has survived, and all the resident animals have disappeared. Too many species and habitats are following that route to oblivion as land is lost to development. We need the diversity of life far more than we need another Sprawlmart.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
We have looked at a few facets of life to see how they work together. We have only examined those areas that include living organisms. We haven't even touched non-living processes such as fire, weather, or the seasons. They are also extremely complex and have massive effects on our planet's life. But I have focused our study on the plants, animals, and other organisms to illustrate the God-given importance of life maintaining other life.
What are the lessons that can be learned from this examination of the natural world? And what are the effects on our daily lives? The first issue of critical importance is that Earth's system of life is so complex and interdependent that there is no way it could function except as a working whole. Remove part of the system and the rest will stop functioning. This means the evolutionary theory does not explain how the primordial Earth could have grown from a primitive ecosystem to the complex one we see now. There are so many working pieces in the system that the slowly increasing complexity that evolution demands is impossible to realize. No system we study becomes more complex as it develops. This is both logical and demonstrable, unlike the fanciful and scientifically unprovable claims of evolution. Without God's intervention, everything breaks down rather than improving. The evolution-killing concept of irreducible complexity applies just as well to our ecological system as it does to microscopic structures. Life could never have lasted long enough to diversify into a self- sustaining bionetwork. So the study of ecology is a study refuting evolution.
If we try to understand our world only using naturalistic scientific principles, we will fail. Unless we include God's overall role in shaping and reshaping the system, we will lose our way in endless philosophical quagmires. Ellen White described this perfectly. "Young men talk about science and are wise above that which is written; they seek to explain the ways and works of God to meet their finite comprehension; but it is all a miserable failure. True science and Inspiration are in perfect harmony. False science is something independent of God. It is pretentious ignorance." Testimonies Vol. 4, p. 584.
The second lesson of importance concerns the animals themselves. When we look at the animal life God has made, we find it to be overwhelmingly composed of invertebrates. Vertebrate mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and birds compose only 3-4% of the total discovered species. And over half of those vertebrates are found in the fish world! One family of insects, the beetles, have over 350,000 named species, with many more waiting to be discovered. But there are only around 4000 mammal species, with relatively few left to be identified. And it is not only species diversity in which invertebrates dominate. The total number of individual invertebrates are millions of times greater than individual vertebrates, including us. If we add up the total weight of all the animals on land, we find insects by themselves reach 85-93% of the total weight. This is astonishing and completely turns our perceptions upside down.
If all vertebrates went extinct tomorrow, invertebrate animals would be disrupted and some would themselves go extinct, but many would settle out and continue to function normally. But if all invertebrates went extinct tomorrow, the vertebrates would quickly follow them into extinction. This includes humans, since we could not exist for even a few months without the ecosystem services maintained by invertebrates. This really shows how complex God has made our world. Life is not made of individual parts that can be casually destroyed with no consequences. Humans have been busily destroying many species of plants and animals for centuries. Some of the species lost have been of limited impact. Some lost species have had ripple effects that have resulted in other species also going extinct. And some lost species have had major impacts on the ecosystem. How many species can we lose in any local area without beginning a chain reaction of destruction? We never know...but many local ecosystems have already been destroyed in this way. On a worldwide scale, we are playing a global game of Russian roulette, where every lost plant or animal takes us another step toward disaster.
An unexpected side effect of this is that our value judgment of an animal's importance is usually way off. When we look at Giant Pandas or Whooping Cranes or White Rhinos, we are concerned about their rarity and are often willing to work to prevent their extinction. This is good, since they are wonderful animals that should be protected. But if any of them went extinct, the results to the ecosystem would be limited. But if a worm or beetle or shrimp or mussel is rare, we are indifferent and make no effort to protect them. When they go extinct, the damage to us is much worse than if a more charismatic bird or mammal is lost.
People wonder why I spend so much of my creation presentations talking about invertebrates, when there are so many pretty birds and cute mammals available for study. Not only does the Bible tell us to go to the ant in Proverbs, but Ellen White gives us a wonderful glimpse of God's view of life. "The perfection of God's work is as clearly seen in the tiniest insect as in the king of birds." Testimonies Vol. 4, p. 591. We must stop categorizing animals into good or bad, important or irrelevant, useful or disagreeable. We know too little most of the time to make value judgments of any species' worth. The most ignorant question asked by humans is, "What good is that animal?" ALL species matter to God, or He would not have created them as part of His plan.
This does not mean that there are not pests to be dealt with. Due to sin, some animals have been changed by Satan to directly cause humans problems. Parasites are clearly part of Satan's attack upon our wellbeing. Parasites serve no useful function to any other life, they only cause harm. Other animals compete with us indirectly as they eat our food or damage our homes. We must protect ourselves from injury from animals that harm us. But we must be careful to only control these animals that are actually problems. Too often we destroy every insect and spider for the high crime of being an insect or spider. We casually crush every small life form as if it is our duty to eliminate the creatures God has made.
Is it a sin to kill insects? No. Ellen White has made this clear. "Letters have come to me, asking in regard to the teaching...that nothing that has life should be killed, not even insects, however annoying or distressing they may be.... The Lord has never given any human being such a message. God has told no one that it is a sin to kill the insects which destroy our peace and rest." Selected Messages Vol. 1, p. 170. So we are not talking here about a moral issue. By contrast, it is a sin to kill animals for sport, for their fur, or for blood-filled meat, as we examined in my presentation Animals, Ethics & Christianity. Obviously, killing insect pests do not fit these categories. But do we really want to kill the invertebrates which aid us? Should we kill the insects that pollinate our food, that recycle our soil and forest nutrients, and that clean up pollution? If we look at the financial benefit of insects in the U.S. economy alone, insects save us fifty-seven billion dollars per year! And this amount is a conservative estimate.
We need a much better understanding of nature to know which species are harmful and which species are helpful. Then we can target more intelligently those species that really are a threat. We fear spiders, but of the Earth's 38,000 described species of spiders, less than 100 have a strong enough venom and bite to be dangerous. Of these, only two kinds are native to North America; the Brown Recluse and the Black Widow. The vast majority of spiders should be left alone to do the job God directed them to do. If we wanted to roughly estimate, maybe 80-90% of invertebrates are useful to us directly or to the ecosystem that we depend on. Only a tiny fraction actually cause us harm, so we should be educated as to which those are and leave the useful majority alone. This is not sentimental new age mysticism; this is self-interest and preservation of ourselves and the system God has established.
Our final important lesson is how careful we need to be with the life we depend on. As we have seen, human life depends on animal life to exist. So we need to protect all the pieces that keep the system functioning well. This seems obvious, but humans have a terrible record when it comes to protecting important creatures. If a moth or crayfish, mussel or frog becomes rare enough to need protecting, the usual reaction by people is anger and resistance. Anything that interferes with business or recreation or blood sports is fought viciously, especially if it is to protect some "worthless bug." So we let tiny and valuable creatures die and mourn them not, even though priceless and unique creations of God are lost.
The variety of life, called biodiversity, is one of the most valuable commodities in the world. It is the fiber that holds our life support system together. The greater the diversity, the stronger the system. Island ecosystems are more easily destroyed because they lack this diversity. When the inhabitants of Easter Island cut their forests and destroyed the native animals, they destroyed their own ability to survive. Their entire society imploded as resources disappeared. With no trees left to build boats, they had no way to escape and most of them died, some even turning to cannibalism. Our modern world is following the same path of self-destruction by degrading the network of life we rely on. Every day in the U.S., 6000 acres of natural habitat are destroyed, either paved or farmed for cow feed or strip mined. All the resident animals and plants in those acres are killed, since they have nowhere else to go. Does anyone think this is a good idea? Every day, another 6000 acres lost? Appalachian mountain tops destroyed for coal or farmland wasted on high fructose corn syrup or deserts paved for the next identical shopping center two miles closer to our house. Since 1970, the world has lost half its land and freshwater animals. Not species lost by extinction, but actual individuals of all animals both common and rare, destroyed for food, sport, greed or lost habitat.
Consumerism is the curse of our age, putting greed and fashion before health and sanity. Now don't misunderstand me. I did not say capitalism, which I totally support. I said consumerism, which is the endless buying of things we already have or don't need. We measure success by how much money we spend, how well we keep up with the Jones, and how many toys we die with. By buying the latest device, the hippest outfit, and eating the trendiest diet, we are funding the continued destruction of the natural world.
Inspiration condemned consumerism long before we even coined the term. "We see men eagerly striving to accumulate property. They put forth all their energies, tact, wisdom, and inventive powers to gain their object, in securing earthly treasures that they will not need, and cannot use for their own profit or for their children's benefit. These persons have not time to devote to prayer, or to seek God, or to place themselves on the side of Christ....It is most sad, indeed, when those who profess godliness exhibit to the world such a perversion of their powers....All their powers are employed in securing earthly possessions, and time and talents, consequently, are spiritually dwarfed." The Review and Herald, March 1, 1887.
Environmentalists talk about taking shorter showers, driving electric cars, and recycling. But they usually ignore the single greatest way of preventing destruction to nature, and that is our diet. Huge areas of forest and grassland are destroyed to raise farmed animals. 75% of all the grain grown and 50% of all the water used in America are wasted by the meat industry. A meat eater is responsible for this massive waste of natural resources. Farmed cattle alone consume enough grain to feed 8.7 billion humans. If meat eating ended, there would be enough vegetarian food available to feed the world's humans many times over. A meat eater is responsible for human starvation around the world. U.S. ranchers and farmers destroy competitors and predators by the millions, then slaughter 10 billion helpless livestock every year. A meat eater is responsible for this cruelty to both wild and domestic animals.
And someone who avoids eating dairy products and eggs saves even more lives and resources, since those industries are just as cruel and wasteful. 33% of America's raw materials and fossil fuels are wasted by the meat industry. In a vegan economy, only 2% of those resources would be used for food. A vegan driving a Hummer wastes less energy than a meat eater driving a Prius. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but 2500 gallons to produce a pound of meat. A vegan can take a shower all day and use less water than a meat eater who never showers. A vegan can never recycle and save more resources than a meat eater who recycles everything they have ever used. Meat is the driving force behind virtually every area where we are destroying ourselves: deforestation, topsoil erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, social injustice, and the spread of human disease. To be a meat eating environmentalist is an oxymoron.
We need to make decisions about our priorities and how our actions affect the life around us. Killing animals because it is convenient or fashionable or profitable leads to the loss of those animals that keep us alive. Without animals we will die. Some of us will die sooner, and some of us later, but there are real and fatal consequences to losing species. The Endangered Species Act is the most important law ever passed to protect the diversity of life. It tries to restore rare animals and plants before they go extinct. It is hated beyond measure by industry and developers and has been attacked relentlessly for decades. The Endangered Species Act is actually a rescue net for humanity, by saving the animals and plants we depend upon. Until we learn to protect life rather than destroy it, we will continue to hurt ourselves by our shortsightedness.
We should always remember that we do not own the Earth or its creatures, as shown in Psalm 50:10-12. "For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine...for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof." Thanks to sin, nature and animals suffer under the curse of sin. "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Romans 8:22. But rather than blaming just Adam and Eve, God holds sinful humans of all ages responsible for the curse affecting the land and the animals. "How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they [the people] said, He shall not see our last end." Jeremiah 12:4. The same thought is expressed in Isaiah 24:5 and Hosea 4:1-3. So humans, as caretakers of creation, can reduce the burden of sin by faithfully following all of God's directions as revealed by inspiration.
Often Christians feel that what we do to this world's creatures doesn't matter because Jesus is coming soon and will start over with a perfect world. Unfortunately, God has not allowed us the luxury of such selfishness. God gave all of us a duty of stewardship for His creation. At the second coming, God brings reward and judgment to the living and the dead. Those who ignore God's commands will have a reward not to their liking. "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou [God] shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth." Revelation 11:18. This is very serious and shows that God does not respect a "trash the world and get a new one free" attitude. Will the earth continue to be ruined by human greed and be eventually remade by Christ? Absolutely. Nothing we do will prevent that end result. But if we contribute to the continued death of life by our carelessness and selfishness, we will be held responsible for our choices. We are always accountable for our own actions, even when evil continues without our participation. Child abuse, pornography, and even slavery will all exist until the second coming, but our loyalty to Christ will always shun and oppose these vices in all their forms. Our stewardship of animals, plants, and the land itself is a vital aspect of faithful Christianity, one that we ignore at our own peril.
So when we look at the science of ecology, we find a wonderfully complex and important area of study. God has revealed Himself in Earth's living systems by their infinite complexity that evolution could never have produced. Chaos cannot produce complexity. It never has and it never will. Ecology is also a window into the wealth of species large and small that share our home. From the largest whale to the tiniest living speck, we find most creatures working together to bring praises to their Creator by doing the job God assigned them. As we fulfill our own role as God's representatives and stewards, we will stand as faithful witnesses to the wonder and glory of our infinite Creator.